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Tobacco farmers bemoan power cuts, as crop’s hectarage rises 11pc

Edgar Vhera-Agriculture Specialist Writer

AS farmers continue to acknowledge tobacco’s economically transformative power and expand their hectarages, the area under both irrigated and dryland tobacco cultivation has increased by 11 percent from 20 001 hectares in 2022 to 22 298 this season.

Statistics contained in the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) weekly report 44 dated November 03 show that there was an eight percent increase in area planted under irrigation from 15 727 to 16 962 hectares.

Dryland tobacco recorded a giant 25 percent increase from 4 274 to 5 336 hectares.

Mashonaland Central recorded the largest change in area planted at 22 percent, followed by Mashonaland East, Mashonaland West and Manicaland at 14, nine and three percent individually.

The report said 105 805 growers had been registered so far compared to 133 724 registered during the same period last year, marking a 26 percent decline.

At least 91 percent of the registered farmers are contracted growers.

Communal farmers constitute the largest chunk of registered growers at 59 290, with A1 coming second on 34 872 while small-scale commercial and A2 are on 5 560 and 6 080 respectively.

The report disclosed that Mashonaland Central had registered the largest number of growers of 39 854, with Mashonaland West trailing behind on 37 499. These two provinces account for 73 percent of all the registered growers.

Tobacco Farmers Union Trust (TFUT) president Mr Victor Mariranyika so far preparations were at an advanced level for the rain-fed crop.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe Tobacco Association (ZTA) chief executive officer Mr Rodney Ambrose yesterday lamented increased power cuts saying they were affecting irrigation scheduling for the irrigated crop and increasing production costs.

“Power outages from about 0500 hours in the morning to as late as 2200 hours are a major concern in most growing areas at the moment. Growers are struggling to complete their irrigation cycles and are relying on diesel powered generators, incurring huge costs,” he said.

Mr Ambrose said with the dry weather predicted, increased irrigation of the tobacco crop would be unavoidable thereby driving production costs up.

The crop quality, yield and grower viability is likely going to be compromised as the option of running generators is not sustainable, with farmers waiting for rains when they cannot use generators. With curing of the irrigated crop starting in early December power demand will increase further.

“We are engaging with the power utility to identify clusters where power supply can be prioritised just like they did for the wheat programme. However, if power deficits persist nationally, the cluster solution may not entirely resolve the issue.  The next option is to plead with the Government to provide subsidised diesel or allow duty free imports of fuel primarily for powering generators,” the ZTA boss said.

Mr Ambrose believes the long-term solution was to move over to the use of solar although this has a costly outlay that requires growers to have access to long term financing.

This will also require Government to permit duty and tax free imports of solar equipment to be used solely for farming activities, he added.

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