THE Tobacco Research Board (TRB) has unveiled two new tobacco seed varieties with a multi-disease resistant capacity as preparations for the 2013/2014 tobacco season intensify.
The two varieties which will be availed to a limited number of farmers during this season are still undergoing trials.
Tobacco Research Board acting general manager Dr Dahlia Garwe said the varieties had a potential of yielding 4,5 tonnes of tobacco per hectare, up from the two tonnes being produced.
In normal climatic conditions with the existing seed varieties, one hectare of irrigated tobacco yields four tonnes, but in the past that had gone down to three tonnes.
On dry land, one hectare which normally produces three tonnes is now yielding two-and-a half tonnes.
“The board will continue to research and produce more varieties in line with the country’s aim to improve tobacco production,” Dr Garwe said.
“We have four more new varieties, which we expect to release next season.”
Meanwhile, Dr Garwe said the board has 200 000 hectares of seed marking a 45 percent increase compared to seed availed last year.
It also has 4 000 hectares of seedlings, which is 70 percent higher than last season’s hectarage.
Tobacco growers have since begun transplanting seedlings from seedbeds to the fields as the summer cropping season gathers momentum.
The tobacco cycle starts in June when farmers prepare their seedbeds, in September planting begins mainly for farmers who irrigate their crop and selling commences in February.
September 1 2013 is the regulated date for farmers to start transplanting seedlings.
Tobacco farmer Maideyi Maswi from Mazowe, said following a successful marketing season, preparations for the coming season were at an advanced stage.
She urged financial institutions to support the tobacco sector as it was poised for growth.
“Preparations are already in full swing as most farmers have already prepared seedbeds and doing all they can to secure them from being destroyed by the low temperatures we are experiencing in some areas,” Maswi said.
“With what is transpiring on the ground, the sector has potential to continue to grow hence there is need for stakeholders to support the growers.”
Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) commodities specialist Simbarashe Muchena said most farmers had adhered to the stipulated date to start transplanting.
“By last month most farmers had already prepared seedbeds and those who irrigate their crop have already started transplanting,” said Muchena.
“We are looking forward to a good season provided that we receive adequate rains in time.”
“Farmers are now transplanting their seedlings with those with the rain-fed crop still under seedling stage and they will transplant with onset of rains.”
Farmers have urged Government to review the gazetted irrigated tobacco planting dates as they no longer conform to prevailing weather patterns which have been affected by climate change.
Muchena said farmers should be aware that planting dates were not synchronised with the rainy season, but life cycles of pests and diseases.
He urged farmers to continue acquiring skills to produce quality crop.
“The dates are meant to break the life cycles of pests to reduce crop damage,” he said.
“The date is just the earliest date for planting hence growers can also grow beyond that date.”
Most of the new farmers lack production and marketing skills and this has reduced the quality and quantity of the cash crop.
The Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) this year said the bulk of the tobacco received was from small holder farmers.
Stakeholders have put in place strategies to help enhance the knowledge of farmers on the production of the crop.
“It seems there is still a lot of work to be done especially educating the new growers,” said Muchena.
“There are cases of a large volume of bales being rejected at the auction floors and the majority of the crop was bought below US$4 hence the need for farmers to learn more.
“Farmers should by now have registered or renewed their registration.”
The number of tobacco growers continues to increase yearly.
The number of growers is now more than 82 833.
By end of June, TIMB indicated that 53 848 had registered to grow tobacco next season with more still expected to register.
Most resettled farmers have ventured into tobacco production which used to be a preserve of the white minority farmers.
The tobacco production sub-sector, a former preserve of white farmers, has grown over the years with production levels rising from an all-time low of 48,8 million kilogrammes (kg) in 2008 to 60 million kg in 2009.
In 2010, the country produced 123 million and 132,5 million kg in 2011 and last year 144,5 million kg worth over US$540 million.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president Wonder Chabikwa said the increased number of tobacco growers was a positive step.
“More farmers will this season be venturing in tobacco production and this is mainly because of how well the crop performed on the market last season and the appreciation of the crop by resettled farmers,” Chabikwa said.