Communal tobacco growers stymied by curing challengesCommunal tobacco growers stymied by curing challenges

tobacco_auction_zimHWEDZA - Above normal rains experienced throughout the country this farming season brought about a bumper tobacco harvest. But to ill-equipped small-scale rural farmers the boon has brought its own challenges.

Communal farmers like Nesbert Mugauri of Hwedza, had secured enough tobacco seed, Compound C fertilizer and pesticides to realize a good crop, and hoped to change their economic situation. Little did they know that unexpected logistical challenges lay in ambush.

The Global Political Agreement (GPA) brought with it some business confidence, resulting in shops being filled with merchandise – including farm inputs. Hardware stores were awash with seed, fertilizer and pesticides- to the delight of aspiring farmers.

Mugauri and other hopeful tobacco growers mistakenly thought growing the golden leaf was all about producing a good crop. It never crossed their minds that firewood, coal or electricity would be needed to cure the harvested crop. Tobacco quality is a result of curing expertise which requires standard leaf drying logistics. He narrated his sad story to The Zimbabwean:

Like any other ambitious farmer I planted a hybrid T28 tobacco variety crop on a two-ha plot. It was an early planting, in October, and as heaven smiled on us we received well above average rains. According to government land development officers in my area, my tobacco crop was first grade and would fetch a good price at the auction floors.

But then challenges cropped up as I prepared to dry and cure the crop early last month. I suddenly realised I have no access to firewood, coal or electricity facilities. Since the crop was hybrid, with huge well-fertilized leaves, it needs high temperatures.

I do not own a tree plantation in the village and indiscriminate and unauthorised tree cutting is a serious criminal offence. Offenders would be made to pay a $300 fine per each cut tree. With no alternatives to cure the tobacco, my bumper harvest was rotting in the fields. My situation is shared by other under-equipped farmers in the area.

A government Agriculture Extension Officer based at Hwedza Centre said: Recommended curing of the crop in the barn would start with heat temperatures ranging between 35-45 degrees Celciusfor leaf colouring. This would be followed by an average 50 degrees for leaf drying. Finally the leaf stem would be dried at around 70 degrees.

Mugauri and other farmers in his situation have already started counting their losses, as prospects of securing firewood at this stage of the season were next to zero.

EMA officials continue to encourage tobacco farmers and other regular firewood users to plant exotic trees such as gum tree for domestic and farming purposes. Exotic trees such as gum and pine tree mature within a few years. Since the plants are readily available at various private and government plant nurseries, people should develop a culture of planting such trees around their homesteads for future use, it advises.

Many communal Zimbabweans are skilled farmers, but they have been let down by poor facilities and lack of access to capital. Most of them acquired their skills from former commercial farmers previously before the ill-advised and corrupt Zanu (PF)-sponsored land reform began in 2000.

Post published in: News
  1. simply simon

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