Blight-free year for tomato producers Dr Charles Dhewa

Tariro Stacey Gatsi

TOMATO producers must this year capitalise on the absence of early and late blight disease, which has plagued the crop in recent times and increase production to meet demand for the product while boosting their earnings.

Knowledge Transfer Africa (KTA) chief executive officer Dr Charles Dhewa said this while giving an update on trading activities at mass markets recently. He revealed that tomato prices had dropped due to quick ripening as harvesting was fast and without being affected by diseases.

“A lot of pests usually affect tomatoes between the period of January and February but this year is different. The product is readily available and prices have dropped,” said Mr Dhewa.

A sandak of tomatoes that weighs an average of 30kg is being sold at between US$10 and US$16 at Mbare Musika.

For the past decade, Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector has grappled with recurring crop diseases that have devastated tomatoes resulting in opportunists taking advantage of the subsequent deficit to smuggle tomatoes from neighbouring countries.

Zimbabwe’s highest tomato production was recorded in 2015 when it produced 25 323 tonnes from 3 508 hectares. Globally the major producers of tomatoes are China, India, Turkey, US, Egypt and Italy. The global average production for tomatoes from 2015-2020 was 216 396 496 tonnes. 

The 2022/23 summer season second round crop, livestock and fisheries assessment (CLAFA 2) report revealed that tomato production increased by 19 percent from 281 610 tonnes in the 2021/22 season to 336 300 tonnes in the 2022/23 period.

Area under production slightly increased seven percent from 10 430 to 11 210 hectares with productivity rising 11 percent from 27 to 30 tonnes per hectare, said the report.

From a recent survey, eMKambo discovered that most local consumers prefer fresh tomatoes to tomato sauce. No one can buy tomato sauce when there is a pile of fresh tomatoes.

An A1 tomato farmer from Cranham farm in Mazoe Mr Edward Simbanegavi has reported a substantial increase in production, which has resulted in a surge of supply in the domestic market.

“It’s truly a blessing to witness such a bountiful harvest. In previous years, we struggled with diseases like bacterial wilt and tomato blight, which devastated our crops. But this year, the absence of these diseases has allowed us to maximise our yields and meet market demands,” he said.

Meanwhile, Seed Co Vegetable Zimbabwe sales agronomist Mr Francis Benson Mapindani emphasised that early and late blight are the most common diseases that affect tomatoes during the period of January and February. 

He added: “Late blight is a disease, which mainly targets solanaceas crops. It can devastate tomato plants during the cool rainy weather. Symptoms appear as if the leaves are water soaked with the blotches getting enlarged fast to form greenish black blotches. It also affects fruits, giving them brown blotches and rapidly deteriorating. The disease affects stem too, which usually exhibits brownish black spots that spread up the plant if left uncontrolled. To contain the problem, water at the base of the plant and avoid wetting the leaves. Use tolerant varieties and practise regular use of fungicides and crop rotation.”

He further emphasised that early blight targets solanaceaes crops. Symptoms are brown to black spots on the lower leaves. Leaves turn yellow and dry off. They also develop multiple spots. Attacks on the fruits from the stem end up causing large sunken areas where the fruit connects to the stem. Use of curative fungicides to control the disease is recommended.

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