ZIMBABWE’S tobacco crop is under threat, as the current dry spell has taken its toll on one of the country’s biggest forex earners.
BY FIDELITY MHLANGA
A visit by NewsDay to Mashonaland West province last week revealed that the golden leaf was under threat from excessive heat, with farmers pessimistic about its prospects of this season.
A Trelawney farmer, Prosper Mutumbi said the dry spell could be disastrous, as he would fail to recoup from his one-and-half hectare investment.
“I planted half a hectare using inputs and chemicals from a tobacco contracting company and the other hectare was using my own inputs. If the current weather persists, I won’t get anything, “he said.
Federation of Farmers Union chairman, Wonder Chabikwa told NewsDay the crop was in a pathetic state due to the heat.
“The crop in the dry land of Mashonaland West, which is region three, is so bad, the leaf is so small and the crop is in bad shape. It is our hope that we get rainfall, which does not look so, given that the sky is blue, as if we are in August,” he said.
Chabikwa said only irrigated tobacco, which has a reliable supply of electricity has been doing well, with reaping and curing ongoing since December.
Zimbabwe Tobacco Association chief executive officer, Rodney Ambrose said the central and northern areas of the country that have had below normal rainfall were in need of meaningful rainfall, adding that more periodic rainfall is required over the next two months.
“Tobacco generally withstands drier conditions better than wet. So the current spell has not had immediate negative impact on the crop output. However, a persistent hot, dry weather pattern can stunt growth, produce shorter leaf length and a dry natured tobacco, which does not sell as well,” he said.
As of January 12, 15 779 hectares was under irrigation with 77 433 hectares on dry land.
At least 113 619 farmers have registered to grow the golden leaf, up from 81 301 farmers last season.
Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) spokesperson, Isheunesu Moyo said the rain-fed crop was affected by the mid-season drought.
“TIMB is carrying out a crop assessment exercise to determine effect on the crop after which we will give a full report. The situation is not yet dire and we are optimistic to a good season. We continue to look forward to the rains,” he said.
The golden crop is essential in oiling the country’s nostro accounts to enable the importation of key commodities such as fuel, cash, raw materials and electricity.
The forex situation improves at the onset of the tobacco marketing season. Last season, the tobacco sales generated $600 million after 190 million kilogrammes of the crop went under the hammer. This year, Treasury has projected an output of 200 million kg.
The government has been rolling out some incentives to encourage the growing of the golden leaf, with the central bank reviewing upward to 12,5% the export incentive for this coming marketing season from 5% last year.