Edgar Vhera Agriculture Specialist Writer
A beneficiary of the Land Reform Programme, Mr Masimba Charles Choto, has called upon all citizens to fully embrace Government projects for economic development.
Mr Choto, an A2 farmer at Lochnager Farm in Muzarabani, said this recently at a tobacco discussion forum at his farm.
“Believe and have faith in your Government’s projects as they can empower you fully,” he said.
“I have faith in my Government and embraced the Land Reform Programme from the onset. My earlier years’ experience in tobacco farming can be likened to a child learning to walk. If he or she falls and no one looks at him or her, they will rise on their own but the child will cry if you notice him or her and say sorry you have fallen; such is farming. “There is always an opportunity for improvement in all our challenges for they are a blessing for lasting growth.”
The Government has called on farmers to fully utilise the land they got, for the betterment of the economy.
Mr Choto has done that and has set his eyes on tobacco production, after accepting advice from all tobacco value chain actors; from research, to extension, input stockists, contractors and various others.
Mr Choto took aspiring tobacco farmers and the established ones, on a lesson on producing tobacco seedlings using the float tray production system, which is an improvement from the conventional method.
“The area you see here, small as it might appear, will produce tobacco seedlings enough to cover 70 hectares of tobacco. This means I will be left with enough seedlings to plant on 20 hectares of land that I can share with those in need,” he said.
Before using the float tray system, Mr Choto used to put a large area under conventional methods to plant 50 hectares.
He has four field plots to plant this year, with two plots already planted on 23 hectares under irrigation.
“In a week’s time I will plant the remaining 7 hectares to ensure that 30 hectares is under irrigation. The last 20 hectare plot will be planted between October 20 and November 5 latest, under dryland,” said Mr Choto.
He planted two Kutsaga tobacco varieties KRK66 and KRK76. He has nicknamed the KRK66 variety “broiler” and he calls the KRK76 “road runner”.
The nicknames have been necessitated by the water tolerance and resistance to diseases.
The KRK66 variety requires a lot of water, hence it is the one under irrigation. The KRK76 variety, to be planted under dryland, is not affected by fungal diseases such as alternaria, angular leaf spot and frog eye.
Mr Choto has established tie ridges or small dams in between tobacco lines to control water runover and to capture and retain water in the field.
Over the years, Mr Choto has achieved a maximum yield of 3,6 tonnes per hectare and he is now targeting to attain four tonnes per hectare.
To cure his tobacco, Mr Choto uses the Chongololo barn system, which cures from top to bottom, unlike the conventional system that is bottom up.
The Chongololo system is easy to use, produces high quality leaves, uses less curing fuel and therefore cost effective.
It also has high curing efficiency.
Though initial costs of establishing the Chongololo barn may be high, the returns are high in the long term.
Said Mr Choto: “Chongololo barns are expensive to construct and for my two sets they cost me US$158 000. I got a loan from my contractor, Mashonaland Tobacco Company (MTC) of US$73 000 payable over three years to aid in the barn construction.
“I am now left with US$24 000 to clear the loan,” said Mr Choto.
Using conventional barns in earlier years, he needed to get curing coal worth US$105 000 for 50 hectares, but with the Chongololo system, only US$60 000 worth of coal is required, implying a saving of US$45 000 per year.
Another beneficiary of the Land Reform Programme under the A1 model, Gogo Thembisa, said she was happy with what she had seen at Mr Choto’s farm.
“This is an eye opener to us; we have been farming all these years in this area but our eyes were closed, now we see. Mimicking the biblical story of Phillip who was told by Jesus Christ that ‘you have been walking with me all these years, yet you don’t know me, now that you have seen me you have seen the father.’ This proverb has been fulfilled in our lives today,” said Gogo Thembisa.
MTC country agronomist, Mr Chris Sheppard, said his company was contracting both commercial and smallholder farmers.
“We fund farmer input requirements as well as infrastructure development as indicated by Mr Choto, one of our advocates. We are planning on contracting 23 million kgs of flue cured tobacco this season,” said Mr Sheppard.
Stakeholders gather at Mr Choto’s farm listening to presentations from the Tobacco Research Board