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Mealy bugs hit some tobacco farms

Mealy bugs are white soft bodied insect pests which thrive in hot and dry conditions.

KUTSAGA says sporadic incidences of mealy bugs have been reported in Mashonaland Central’s Mt Darwin, Shamva, Mhangura and other areas in Manicaland province this farming season.

Mealy bugs are white soft bodied insect pests which thrive in hot and dry conditions.

They are predominantly a cotton pest in some districts of Zimbabwe. On tobacco and seed crops, mealy bugs are an incidental pest only infesting the crops on very few occasions when the seedlings are water stressed.

In the 2019/2020 tobacco season, the first cases of mealy bugs on tobacco were recorded in Odzi, Manicaland.

“This season (2023-24), sporadic incidences have been reported from Mt Darwin, Shamva, Mhangura and Manicaland. Mealy bugs feed by sucking phloem sap from the leaves which causes the leaves to yellow, wilt and dry,” Kutsaga said in a statement.

“They also excrete a sticky substance (honeydew) on foliage, which allows the growth of sooty mould. The long-term effect of such damage is reduced biomass and loss in leaf quality.”

The organisation said an integrated pest management approach is necessary for the effective management of mealy bugs on tobacco.

“Tobacco growers are encouraged to adhere to the recommended cultural practices that have been successfully used to manage pests and diseases, such as following the ideal crop rotations, agrochemical rotation schemes and stipulated planting and sowing dates,” it said.

“Systemic active ingredients are effective in achieving the best knock down effect of sap sucking insect pests, especially on tobacco.”

Cognisance of the permanence of climate change, growers were encouraged to regularly scout their fields and be on the lookout for changes in diseases and pest profiles in their fields and report any unfamiliar trends.

Tobacco is one of the country’s top foreign currency earners after gold.

As of December 2023, the country has raked in about US$1,2 billion from tobacco exports, compared to US$975 million achieved during the corresponding 2022 period.

According to the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB), Zimbabwe had exported 233,9 million kilogrammes of the golden leaf valued at US$1,2 billion as of December 15, 2023.

The average price for the shipments was US$5,23 a kg compared to US$4,96 a kg during the same period in 2022.

Last year, during the same period, the country exported 196,6 million kg.

Zimbabwe exports the bulk of its golden leaf to countries in the Far East including China.

For the 2023/24 season, 112 906 growers have registered so far in preparation for the next season, according to TIMB. Last year 144 446 growers had registered during the same period.

TIMB said 94% of the registered growers are contracted.

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