Tobacco farmers worried heavy rains may cause diseases, leaching

Tariro Stacey Gatsi

WHILE the return of rains after a prolonged dry spell should naturally ignite fresh hopes for a better season among farmers, tobacco farmers are worried the recent heavy rains would heavily expose their crop to fungal diseases such as Frogeye, angular leaf spot and Alternaria foliar ruining the prospects of a good harvest.

Kutsaga Research has since issued a warning urging growers to watch out for the above mentioned fungal diseases and report any cases they might record to save the crop from outright ruin.

“When not properly managed, pests and diseases can drastically reduce yield and quality of tobacco. There are three key foliar diseases that are of major concern – Angular leaf spot, Frogeye and Alternaria Leaf Spot. However, the Tobacco Research Board (TRB) has since established that a group of fungicides collectively known as strobilurins can be effective against both Frogeye and Alternaria leaf spot diseases,” explained Kutsaga in its advisory communication.

Meanwhile, other stakeholders in the tobacco industry have since weighed in saying the heavy rains were presenting tobacco farmers with a lot of challenges in weed control, ridge maintenance and extra costs from fertiliser and chemical additional purchases.

Zimbabwe Tobacco Growers Association (ZTGA) chairperson Mr George Seremwe bemoaned the resultant high weed establishment rate because of the rains adding that ridges designed to promote good drainage might also be destroyed creating more work for the farmers.

“One of the major challenge is leaching, a condition where elements such as nitrogen and potassium are washed beyond the root zone making it impossible for the crop to access them and deficiency symptoms may develop,” said Mr Seremwe.

A cash crop synonymous with economic prosperity for countless farmers faces a dire threat when fields are submerged under water and once-promising leaves succumb to the perils of excessive moisture.

“If tobacco is planted in water logging soils it wilts and dies as the roots rot easily in water. Tobacco cannot tolerate spending a period of 48 hours in water so this means that those farmers in soils prone to water logging will suffer heavy losses,” said Mr Seremwe.

Growers must choose the specific fertiliser to use to avoid extra costs of washed away fertilisers, added Mr Seremwe.

“It must be noted that ammonium nitrate is more persistent in the soil and is less prone to leaching than calcium nitrate. Deep coarse-grained soils and late planted December crops may require more fertilisers (up to 300 kilogrammes per hectares,” further explained Mr Seremwe.

Tobacco plants are generally sensitive to waterlogged conditions and excessive soil moisture.

Tobacco Farmers Union Trust (TFUT) president Mr Victor Mariranyika said excess rainfall could damage the leaves’ structure as well as disturb other farm operations.

“Incessant rainfall patterns tend to lead to excessive soil moisture content, which promotes unlimited nutrient loss due to leaching resulting in poor quality leaf.

“It also disturbs other farm operations thereby compromising profitability with human resources and machinery possibly failing to cope,” said Mr Mariranyika.

Statistics availed in the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) weekly report dated December 15 show that there was a 27 percent decline in total area planted from 75 411 hectares in 2022 against this year’s 55 170 during the corresponding period.

Tobacco is the country’s biggest agricultural export and second largest single commodity export after gold, raking in around US$800 million in 2021.

TIMB is working closely with its parent Ministry – Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development to bring order and sanity to the industry as the country seeks to achieve a US$5 billion industry by 2025.

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