Dumisani Nsingo, Senior Farming Reporter
LACK of a ready market and technical support is hampering tobacco production in Matabeleland region, officials have said.
Department of Agricultural Technical and Extension Services (Agritex) Matabeleland North provincial officer Mr Dumisani Nyoni said Matabeleland had suitable soils for the cropping of tobacco but the unavailability of auction floors in the region was hindering most farmers from growing the golden leaf.
“Matabeleland has good soils and produces a good tobacco crop but the main challenge has to do with marketing. It’s quite expensive for farmers to transport their produce to Harare and wait for it to be sold as is what is happening presently. The other issue is unavailability of technical support as the Tobacco Research Board is only located in Harare,” said Mr Nyoni.
Matabeleland South provincial Agritex officer Mr Masauso Mawocha said there was a need for farmers to embrace the cropping of tobacco as it had higher returns compared to other crops.
“We have heard about the gross margins of tobacco, they are very attractive. The personnel to impart knowledge is there through Agritex in conjunction with TIMB and Tobacco Research Board (TRB). So if the farmers embrace the crop, we will definitely support them. Tobacco was tried in Insiza and Beitbridge districts but in those cases it wasn’t Virginia tobacco but it was Barley.
“However, even virginia tobacco can be grown in this province but I think there is a need for vigorous marketing of the crop. It can be grown, its possible, the weather is conducive maybe there will be need to work on the modalities especially transport to the action floors of tobacco,” said Mr Mawocha.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union Matabeleland North chairman Mr Winston Babbage expressed dissatisfaction at the low number of tobacco growers in the province attributing it mainly to the absence of auction floors.
“I would like more people to grow tobacco because it’s very viable and profitable. Right now TRB has a TIPS (Tobacco Improved Productivity Sites) programme where five farmers in the province will be selected.
“Matabeleland doesn’t have an auction floor as a result we are being forced to sell our produce on the black market and the same should be done with cotton which also doesn’t have a properly constituted market locally,” said Mr Babbage.
Only three farmers registered to grow tobacco in the 2016/17 season in Matabeleland North. According to Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board’s grower performance, the region contributed 70 489 kilogrammes (kgs) worth of tobacco in 2016 compared to 30 220 kgs realised in 2015, an increase of 40 269 kgs.
However, TRB training and extension manager, Mr Goodson Khuddu said it was imperative for farmers in Matabeleland region to embark on tobacco production as it has returns compared to cereal crops.
“When things are tight or optimal tobacco will give you higher returns than these other small grains, with that in mind we have been setting up some sites to teach farmers who are interested (in tobacco production) and so far since 2011 we have had at least five sites within Matabeleland North especially in Umguza District.
“So we are seeing scope in that but it takes people to engage themselves fully so that at least it comes to fruition but generally at the moment save for a few dotted incidents that we have witnessed out there, there is very big scope that tobacco production is very possible within this area,” said Mr Khuddu.
Plant Quarantine Services Institute Research Services Division acting head Mr Nhamo Mudada said it was of paramount importance for tobacco farmers to guard against diseases and pests which attack the crop.
A number of viruses infest tobacco resulting in the production of poor quality leaf.
“Tobacco farmers must guard against some serious pests that is why we advise them to observe the dead season, the pests include the viruses. These viruses affect the growth of tobacco and there is also tobacco beetle, which is found in the storage. This is a serious quarantine pest when we do exports it must be excluded. So it must be excluded from storage and farmers must be aware of that beetle especially when they are storing their tobacco for sale,” said Mr Mudada.
Insects are known to be the main vectors transmitting the viruses during their feeding from one crop to another and from one season to another.
Tobacco viral diseases like tobacco bushy top virus, tobacco leaf curl virus and tomato spotted wilt virus are predominantly transmitted by insect vectors, whitefly and thrips respectively. Thrips also transmit tobacco streak virus.
“It is also important for farmers to watch on the fall army worm, this pest can also attack tobacco it’s a new evasion in the country, which has been attacking maize and it’s also a quarantine pest. So farmers should be aware of quarantine pests because these pests affect trade.
Issues to do with quarantine are serious when you look at issues to do with International Trade and the International Trade Convention because once we fail to meet the standards or statutory requirements of trading partners we may be banned from exports and once we are barred from exports we won’t have a market,” said Mr Mudada.