Inasmuch as most tobacco farmers are now conversant with the bulk of the requirements they need to fulfil before they can grow the crop, there are still some yawning gaps in their understanding of crucial tobacco legislation as stipulated by the Plant Pests and Diseases Act (Chapter 19:08).
The Act states that the earliest sowing date in the tobacco seedbed is 1 June of every year and not earlier, while September 1 is the earliest transplanting date in the field.
Farmers are also required to have cleared tobacco grading sheds and storage facilities by October 31 every year so that the cycle of pests such as the tobacco beetle that eats tobacco when it is in the barn or storage facility is disrupted.
It is necessary to ensure that no residue from one harvest is allowed to mix with produce from another season to avoid soiling of quality through such pest attacks.
In a similar requirement, the destruction of all tobacco stalks and ratoon crops should be done by May 15.
Under this one, growers are expected to destroy all tobacco and ratoon crops completely, adequately and effectively to create a dead period in the fields that is crucial in disrupting the build-up of pests and diseases that will naturally lurch onto the next crop that is planted while they are still active.
By December 31 every year, tobacco farmers are expected to have destroyed their seedbeds, which is essentially necessary as well in curbing the spread of pests and diseases.
The logic of this requirement is to ensure that growers do not forget about the seedbed as they concentrate on the tobacco crop on the field both in terms of disease and pest control, as there are chances some of the pests or diseases may be nurtured in the seed bed before they can spread to the crop on the field.
These steps are based on research that was done by the Tobacco Research Board (TRB) in its efforts to make sure the life cycle of aphids, other pests and diseases in general is disrupted through the observation of a dead period during which there are virtually no tobacco plants on the fields of seed beds.
The TRB has continued to train farmers on proper tobacco management and the lessons are for free, which means farmers should take advantage of that reality to go and learn.
Adherence to the recommendations by the TRB will help ensure that the tobacco produced in a fresh season is of high quality and not ruined by diseases or pests from the previous outings, which may in the end result in low returns at the market.
It is, however, exciting to note that many farmers are now alive to the logic of destroying stalks after they are done harvesting their crops.
Just recently, the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) chief executive officer Dr Andrew Matibiri confirmed that most farmers had this year complied with the stalk destruction legislation save for a few that still seemed to be lagging behind. Still, Dr Matibiri did not mince his words but warned the few farmers on the dangers of keeping the stalks on their fields adding that destroying stalks was crucial to break disease and pest cycles.
Stalks naturally become carriers of the mealy bug plant pest, which reduces the next crop’s yields and can even spread fast to other crops.
Contractors on the other hand have since threatened to withdraw sponsorship this coming season from those farmers who have not yet destroyed stalks on their fields, which speaks volumes of the importance of destroying stalks from fields.
No productive farmer will risk losing sponsorship over a lame reason like that.
The idea of leaving stalks on the field is just a matter of shooting oneself in the foot because the results will not haunt the entire tobacco sector wholesomely but the defaulting farmer whose yields and quality of tobacco will be heavily affected. Of course there is a risk of the pests and diseases spreading to compliant farmers’ crop, which makes it necessary for the Government to craft policies that encourage punishment of offenders heavily so that they do not spoil the cake for everyone.
As one of the country’s biggest foreign currency earners, errant individuals must not be allowed to spoil the quality of the golden leaf because this will mean disastrous results for the national economy. Such farmers should be aptly labelled as economic saboteurs and banned from producing the crop in future.
Although such a penalty may sound harsh, it is till necessary to ensure compliance for the general good of tobacco production.
In recent years we have seen stubborn farmers who come to the floors without prior booking spending days on end without being served and such farmers have unfortunately been on the forefront complaining over slow service yet they would have brought the problem upon themselves. This is just but one simple example of what defying set rules may bring upon the errant individual.
This year the Government is targeting to have 150 000 hectares of land under tobacco with latest statistics showing that farmers doing irrigated tobacco have since planted 13 533 hectares while their counterparts on dry land have also planted 7 815 hectares with planting still underway.
The rains that fell last week have seen a lot of tobacco planting activities taking place in districts such as Bindura, Mt Darwin, Centenary and Mvurwi of Mashonaland Central province while the same is also happening on Mashonaland West. In Hurungwe, Chinhoyi, Mhangura and Banket there was a lot of activity this past week, which is most likely to spill into this week and beyond as most farmers had not been planting waiting for the onset of the rainy season.
It is also pleasing to note that the planted crop is reported to be in good condition with most of the farmers producing the crop under contract farming arrangements.