By Nelson Banya
HARARE, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe produced 119 million kgof tobacco in the 2009/10 season, double the previous year'soutput, an official said on Friday, as the sector recovers fromthe damage to commercial farming associated with land seizures.
The southern African country's tobacco yield plunged from apeak of 236 million kg in 2000, before President Robert Mugabeembarked on a drive to take white-owned commercial farms toresettle landless blacks, to 48 million kg in 2007/08.
Zimbabwe's economy, devastated by hyperinflation whichpeaked at 500 billion percent in December 2008, has stabilisedsince last year when Mugabe was forced into sharing power withbitter rival Morgan Tsvangirai, now prime minister, afterdisputed elections.
Zimbabwe Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) chiefexecutive officer Andrew Matibiri told Reuters total sales couldrise to 120 million kg at the end of the tobacco-selling seasonon Friday.
"As of yesterday, 119.4 million kg of tobacco had gonethrough the auctions, compared to 58.6 million kg last year,"Matibiri said.
"The sales have realised $347 million, at an average of$2.91 per kg."
Matibiri said output was projected to be higher next year.
"For the next season we have recorded seed sales enough for105,000 hectares and from that planting area, if everything goeswell, we can get anything up to 200 million kg," Matibiri said.
"But that's assuming the rains and other conditions arefavourable."
Western firms were formerly the main purchasers ofZimbabwean tobacco but Chinese interests have emerged as majorfinanciers and buyers in recent years. Industry officialsestimate that a third of the tobacco crop was taken up by China.
According to official figures, over 40,000 small-scale blackfarmers produced 70 percent of the tobacco crop. The remainderwas from large-scale commercial farmers, of whom just over 120are white farmers. In all, about 400 white farmers remain.
Critics accuse Mugabe of destroying the economy through hisfarm seizures. The veteran ruler -- in power since independencefrom Britain in 1980 -- accuses Western governments opposed tohis rule of plotting to unseat him through economic sanctions. (Editing by Anthony Barker)