BY FREEMAN MAKOPA
TRB’s head of plant breeding division Frank Magama told NewsDay in emailed responses to questions that the board was carrying out a testing programme for suitable cigar wrapper varieties at their plant division in Burma valley.
“The Plant Breeding Division at Kutsaga is testing the agronomic performance of five newly developed hybrids of cigar wrapper varieties. The testing programme for suitable cigar wrapper varieties started in 2013, but the 2017/18 season is the first season for these new ones. Already within this cohort, the outstanding varieties are emerging,” he said.
Magama, however, said data will be collected for two more seasons before suitable varieties are openly released for commercial production.
He said new hybrids were developed to incorporate multi-resistance to these foliar diseases.
“Cigar varieties tested before produced the industry preferred clean leaf and this was always in the normal rainfall season. However, when the weather was very wet and highly humid, these varieties succumbed to foliar diseases like angular leaf spot, alternaria leaf spot and frog eye leaf spot, leaving blemishes on the leaf and making the leaf totally unsuitable for use as cigar wrapper,” Magama said.
“But the new hybrids were developed/bred to incorporate multi-resistance to these foliar diseases producing the much sought after blemish free cured leaf. Additionally, the cured leaves of these new hybrids have excellent smoke quality and therefore are also used as fillers in cigars giving them a dual purpose. The leaf can be processed into premier cigar products.”
He said java and culbro are good hybrid varieties, but are susceptible to disease.
“It is one of the promising hybrids under our trials; it has acceptable growth habit, good yield potential and produces blemish free cured leaf of uniform colour that is desirable. Java on its own produces inferior leaf which cures green and therefore highly undesirable, but it has excellent foliar disease resistance,” Magama said.
“Culbro produces excellent leaf qualities but is highly susceptible to foliar diseases in wet seasons. The combination of the two varieties produces a superior hybrid.”
This year’s cigar wrapper tobacco marketing season was off to a good start a fortnight ago in Burma Valley and farmers are expectant of a good season.
The highest priced fetched was $6,50 per kg.
Von Eicken, a German company, buys the cigar wrapper from Burma Valley farmers and exports to Dominican Republic.
During the first sale which commenced in 2016, the German firm acquired 11 tonnes of cigar wrapper tobacco, followed by 20 tonnes in 2017 and anticipates acquiring similar tonnage this year.
The Germany-headquartered company manufactures and markets cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, and pipe tobacco.
Gloria Chihubu, a Burma Valley farmer who recently sold her harvest, said cigar wrapper farming was a lucrative business.
“I started planting cigar wrapper this year, we were given inputs and I planted half a hectare, we planted on December 23 last year so after I harvested this year, I came with this luggage bag as this is my first time,” she said.
“We have challenges of labour, but so far so good, I think I am on the right track. We are given inputs on credit and we would pay back the money with no interest. But others have encouraged us to take up cigar wrapper as it is lucrative.”
Chihubu said she aims to bring in more bags next season as she now understands what exactly is needed to have a proper yield.