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Pests and Diseases Threaten Sustainability of Zimbabwe’s Tobacco Sector

The tobacco industry in Zimbabwe, one of the country’s largest foreign currency earners, is facing a significant threat from the incidence of pests and diseases. The Tobacco Research Board, trading as Kutsaga, has raised alarms over the sustainability of the sector due to farmers failing to adhere to legislated planting dates.

The Importance of Compliance with Planting Dates

In a recent communication to tobacco growers, Kutsaga stressed the critical need for adherence to planting and stalk destruction legislation. This compliance is vital to achieve the target of 300 million kilograms of tobacco by 2025, as outlined in the Tobacco Value Chain Transformation Plan. The letter emphasized that proper planting dates are essential to managing pests and diseases effectively and keeping them below economical thresholds.

The Threat of Pests and Diseases

Tobacco pests, such as the tobacco aphid, and diseases, including the potato virus Y and bushy top virus, thrive on tobacco regrowths for overwintering. Kutsaga highlighted the importance of breaking the life cycles of these pests and pathogens to ensure sustainable tobacco production in the upcoming season. This requires clearing tobacco stalks from fields before seedbed preparations begin. Additionally, incidental pests like mealybugs and false wireworms also pose a threat that needs to be managed through timely stalk destruction.

Legal Requirements and Compliance

The Plant Pests and Diseases Act (Chapter 19:08) mandates that tobacco growers destroy tobacco stalks by May 15, 2024. Seedbed preparations should commence no earlier than June 1, 2024, and planting should not begin before September 1, 2024. Furthermore, seedbed destruction must be completed by December 31, 2024, or as soon as seedlings are no longer needed for the current season’s crop.

Routine inspections by officials from the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB), the Department of Agricultural, Technical and Extension Services, and the Department of Quarantine Services ensure growers’ compliance with these regulations. Non-compliance attracts stiff penalties, underscoring the importance of adhering to the legislated dates.

Seeking Extensions and Ensuring Good Practices

In cases where late crop establishment occurs due to delayed rains, growers may struggle to complete reaping before the stipulated date. Kutsaga advises such growers to seek extension periods from the Department of Quarantine Services, Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement to avoid penalties. However, growers must ensure all stalks are destroyed immediately after reaping. Proactive measures and good agricultural practices, including the efficient use of aphicides, are essential to minimize the spread of aphids and reduce viral transmission as the new season approaches.

Impact on Tobacco Production

Zimbabwe’s tobacco volumes have already seen a significant decline due to adverse weather conditions, particularly the El Niño-induced drought. As of this week, tobacco volumes have decreased by 25.08% to 125.1 million kilograms compared to the same period last year. Despite an 18.77% increase in the average price per kilogram, tobacco sales value fell by 11.02% to US$445.3 million.

Most of the tobacco, totaling 117.8 million kilograms worth US$418.5 million, was sold through contract floors. In contrast, 7.3 million kilograms worth US$26.8 million were delivered on auction floors. For this year, Zimbabwe projects a production of 235 million kilograms of tobacco, down from a record harvest of 296 million kilograms in 2023.

The sustainability of Zimbabwe’s tobacco sector hinges on strict adherence to planting and stalk destruction dates to manage pests and diseases effectively. The cooperation of all stakeholders, from farmers to regulatory bodies, is crucial in ensuring the industry’s resilience against these threats. With proactive measures and compliance with legislation, Zimbabwe can work towards achieving its ambitious tobacco production targets and securing its position as a leading producer in the global market.

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