Samuel Kadungure Senior Reporter
THE incidence and severity of tobacco diseases and pests such as nematodes and spider mites is threatening to dent the quality of the 2017/18 gold leaf as growers in Manicaland continue violating the statutory deadlines for destruction of stalks.
According to the Plant Pests and Diseases Act (Chapter 19: 08), tobacco growers should clear all stalks from their fields by May 15 of every year – but two months after the lapse of the deadline, most fields in the province are still infested with the crop residue and re-growths which act as hosts for diseases and pests like nematodes and spider mites.
Destruction of stalks – either by cutting the stems and ploughing or disking the fields to pull roots out of the soil and expose them to the sun – starves and averts carryover of pests and disease into the next farming season.
Slashing tobacco stalks and spraying the subsequent re-growth with glyphosphate was effective, but many farmers complain that it is expensive.
Tobacco re-growths can be effectively destroyed by spraying glyphosphate.
The delay has raised serious and genuine fears on the possibility of the passing-on of pests and disease into the 2017/18 season. If tobacco stalks are not destroyed, as is the case in prime tobacco growing areas like Odzi, Nyamajura, Nyazura, Rusape and Headlands, among other areas where farmers have ignored the directive, associated diseases and pests will affect yield quality and increase the farmers’ input costs.
Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) spokesperson, Mr Sheunesu Moyo, said the country could only maximise economic value by sticking to sustainable and responsible tobacco production practices.
Mr Moyo said TIMB was empowered by the Plant Pests and Diseases Act (Chapter 19: 08) to take radical action against all errant tobacco farmers.
Apart from TIMB, tobacco growers who fail to destroy tobacco stalks on or before the May 15 can also be reported to the Department of Research and Specialist Services’ Plant Quarantine Services Institute (PQSI), AGRITEX and Tobacco Research Board (TRB).
Mr Moyo said tobacco pests and diseases can only be effectively controlled if farmers destroy stalks immediately after the final harvest.
“If farmers want to keep stalks for any reason, they should seek permission from the Department of Research and Specialist Services (Plant Quarantine Services Institute).
“Otherwise, we expect stalks to have been destroyed by May 15 to avoid carryover of diseases. Failure to do so will result in farmers being fined,” said Mr Moyo.
For contravening regulations requiring the destruction of tobacco plants by a specified date or prohibiting the planting of tobacco plants between specified dates, a grower will be subjected to a fine not exceeding $100 for each hectare or part thereof in respect of which the offence is committed or imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or both fine and imprisonment.