Sunday, March 30, 2014

Tobacco: Curse of Poverty Amid Plenty
Zimbabweans marketing their tobacco crops during harvest time.
Sunday, 23 March 2014 00:00
Noah Pito and Harmony Agere
Zimbabwe Sunday Maik

Scores of new tobacco farmers who began this season with huge hectarages but without enough curing capacity are likely to incur heavy losses as the available curing facilities are failing to cope with large volumes of the ripening crop.

It emerged last week that some of the farmers also do not have adequate funds to pay for harvesting. According to the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB), 85 006 farmers registered to grow the crop during the 2013-14 season. Of this number, there are 20 249 new farmers.

Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union president Mr Wonder Chabikwa said most of the new farmers lacked vital knowledge, thereby putting their crop at risk.

He said plans were underway to help the concerned farmers.

“At first, we thought people had acquired knowledge, but now we realise many of them are not educated enough on tobacco farming.

“Some of them do not have access to barns where they can cure their tobacco while some do not have resources to harvest it. This could be fatal for them.”

Mr Chabikwa said a new and cheaper curing technology of “rocket barns” has been developed by the Tobacco Research Board (TRB) to help farmers without curing facilities.

“We have teamed up with TRB to help farmers with this new technology which uses plastics to set up the barns and tsotso to burn.

“We are also making efforts to make sure farmers who do not have the money to pay for labour to harvest can be given some sort of advance payment for their tobacco so that they can harvest.

“On top of that, we continue to educate farmers on tobacco farming and our message is that one should not grow what goes beyond their capacity to harvest and cure.”

Hurungwe agricultural extension officer Mr Kelvin Charewa said the situation in the district has been worsened by a shortage of manpower to harvest the crop.

Mr Charewa said most farmers were expected to realise half of their targeted yields.

“Most of our farmers increased their hectarage before putting in place enough curing facilities. With the heavy rains that pounded the district over the past weeks, the crop has been maturing faster than the farmers’ barns can cope.

“On the other hand, some of the farmers are failing to reap their crop on time due to lack of adequate labour. Most of the people who used to provide labour have, themselves, since turned to tobacco production.

“It therefore means they are now unable to provide the much-needed labour as they are also busy with their tobacco.”

Mr Onismous Mugari of Plot No. 10 (Ansdale Farm) said he had written off almost half of his four hectares.

“I tried to build a barn mid last month so that I could increase (curing) capacity, but the truck carrying the bricks got stuck in the mud.

“I have been helplessly watching my tobacco rotting every week with no solution in sight.
“I think I have lost more tobacco than what is now left.”

According to Mr Charewa, most of the farmers increased production in line with the growing number of contractors now operating in the area.

A total of 13 contracting companies are now doing business in the area, up from last season’s seven.

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