Samuel Kadungure Senior Reporter
THE 2017-18 tobacco planting season has started with commercial farmers in Manicaland having so far planted about 2 300 hectares of the projected target that was reviewed to 23 000ha following a sharp increase in registered growers. Statistics from the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board this week showed that 14 012 growers were registered in Manicaland compared to 8 319 last season. Of these, 4 375 were entered as new growers compared to 1 176 last year.
A1 farmers constitute the bulky of the growers at 6 780, followed by communal farmers (5 493) and A2 farmers (979). 1 800ha have been planted under irrigation, while were planted 465ha under dry land. TIMB spokesperson, Mr Isheunesu Moyo, said the 2017-18 season was progressing well.
“So far about 15 296 hectares of tobacco have been planted across the country, of which 2 300ha are in Manicaland, which has 14 012 registered growers. A total of 13 947ha have so far been planted under irrigation and 1 349 under dryland. This year, TIMB has registered 93 795 growers, of which 14 012 are in Manicaland,” said Mr Moyo.
Planting started during the first of September, with most of Manicaland’s work having been done in Makoni, Mutare and Mutasa. Some farmers took advantage of the recent wet spell to intensify both planting and land preparation for grain crops. Manicaland is generally targeting to put at least 23 000ha under tobacco, up from last season’s 15 296ha following an upsurge in registered growers taking up the gold leaf crop in anticipation of a return for their investment following huge spin-offs fetched at the auction floors last selling season.
A survey by The Manica Post in Makoni, which is the province’s hub of tobacco growing, established that farmers were busy planting, while their small-scale counterparts were tendering their nurseries in readiness for dryland tobacco planting started last week. Agritex head for Manicaland, Mrs Phillipah Rwambiwa, said preparations were on course and said farmers should apply adequate water and fertilisers on their crop to ensure high quality leaf.
Irrigated tobacco planting is expected to wind up the first week of November so that it enjoys high humidity and sunshine which are needed for better quality.
“Farmers should apply the recommended 12 to 14 bags of Compound C per hectare. They should not cut corners by applying less than the recommended quantities per hectare because the leaf will be poor and inferior in both size and quality, and end up fetching poor prices at the auction floors,” said Mrs Rwambiwa.
Zimbabwe Tobacco Seed Association national chairman, Mr David Mutasa, of Matambura Farm in Makoni, bemoaned the fact that some tobacco contractors were dumping farmers who failed to service their loans last season. He said though some new tobacco farmers lack sound farming knowledge, the gap could be bridged through training in the technical aspects of irrigation, community organisation and marketing, access to credit, capital or land.
He said field days may also be used to prepare them into better farmers. Mrs Rwambiwa said preps for maize and other crops was on course and warned farmers to follow meteorological advice and plant after receiving 25mm of rain. Manicaland is targeting 260 000ha of maize and about 60 000ha of small grains. Zimbabwe Farmers Union director, Mr Paul Zakaria, said distribution of inputs under both Command Agriculture and the Presidential Inputs Scheme was progressing well.
1,8 million households will benefit under the Presidential Inputs Scheme, which is being implemented by the Grain Marketing Board.
“The registration, assessment and distribution of inputs under Command Agriculture and the Presidential Inputs Scheme were done on time which means we are better prepared than last season. Most inputs are at the farm gate, and this is before the rains, and we are urging the farmers to do everything on time because the window we have for the rains is prescribed; it cannot be stretched,” said Mr Zakaria.
Mr Zakaria bemoaned price hikes of farming inputs as they rise production costs and erode the profit margin for the farmers.