Sky is the limit for to­bacco grow­ers

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - National News -

TO­BACCO farm­ers con­tinue to ex­ceed ex­pec­ta­tions. From 1894 when the first flue-cured crop was grown near Mutare up to 2000, its pro­duc­tion was dom­i­nated by whites. But the land re­dis­tri­bu­tion pro­gramme oc­ca­sioned a change in the racial pro­file of to­bacco grow­ers. Now indige­nous peo­ple are dom­i­nat­ing and up to 90 per­cent of them are in the com­mu­nal and A1 sec­tors.

A few gave them a chance of ex­celling in grow­ing the tech­ni­cally de­mand­ing crop. In­deed they strug­gled ini­tially, the har­vest drop­ping sharply from 2001, a year af­ter white farm­ers achieved a record out­put of 237 mil­lion kilo­grammes.

The skep­tics, among them the op­po­si­tion and white for­mer com­mer­cial farm­ers, used the de­cline in pro­duc­tion to back up their ar­gu­ments that sought to dis­credit the land re­form pro­gramme as “de­struc­tive.” They would not ad­mit that the smaller har­vests were partly caused by droughts that re­gret­tably co­in­cided with the for­ma­tive years of the land re­forms and the nat­u­ral fact that the new farm­ers had not yet ac­quired suf­fi­cient ex­pe­ri­ence to grow the crop com­pe­tently. The naysay­ers were em­bold­ened in 2009 when 58,5 mil­lion kg of to­bacco was har­vested.

They were how­ever forced to eat their words in 2010 when the out­put more than dou­bled to 123,5 mil­lion kg. It was worse for them the fol­low­ing year when 132,5 mil­lion kg were re­alised, 144,5 mil­lion kg in 2012 and 166,7 mil­lion kg in 2013. In 2014, the new farm­ers at­tained their high­est out­put since 2001 at 216 mil­lion kg. Last year, the crop was smaller at 198 mil­lion kg.

This year, the Gov­ern­ment had es­ti­mated that the har­vest would be down to 160 mil­lion kg given the drought in the 2015/16 grow­ing sea­son but the of­fi­cial out­put as re­ported last week is sub­stan­tially higher than that pro­jec­tion — 192 mil­lion kg had been sold a day be­fore the end of the mar­ket­ing sea­son.

In­deed, the 2015/16 sum­mer agri­cul­ture sea­son was tough for every farmer. To­bacco grow­ers planted late due to the de­lay in the com­ing of ef­fec­tive rains. Right through the sea­son the rain­fall in the to­bac­cogrow­ing belt — Mashona­land West, Man­i­ca­land, Mashona­land Cen­tral and Mashona­land East — did not rise to op­ti­mum lev­els.

But, like they have al­ways done over the past 16 years, to­bacco farm­ers have con­founded crit­ics and raised the hopes of the na­tion.

Re­view­ing the sea­son and to­bacco farm­ers’ per­for­mance, Agri­cul­ture, Mech­a­ni­sa­tion and Ir­ri­ga­tion De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter, Dr Joseph Made said: “We suf­fered record break­ing high tem­per­a­tures for most of the sea­son and rain­fall at best was in­ter­mit­tent in most ar­eas. Ef­fec­tive rain­fall only came in De­cem­ber and as a re­sult many grow­ers had to re­plant par­tic­u­larly those with­out ir­ri­ga­tion. This re­sulted in de­lays in the start of the sell­ing sea­son. Ef­fec­tively to­bacco in­jects for­eign cur­rency into the econ­omy dur­ing the to­bacco mar­ket­ing sea­son with close to $1 bil­lion hav­ing been avail­able to pur­chase the crop pro­duced dur­ing the 2015/16 sea­son.” He praised them for their re­silience. To­bacco farm­ers have set a great ex­am­ple that grow­ers of other key crops should fol­low.

There is a big chal­lenge in re­gard to wheat pro­duc­tion, a crop that is grown in win­ter un­der ir­ri­ga­tion. Out­put has been de­clin­ing since 2008 and last year 62 000 tonnes were har­vested, a far cry from the 400 000 needed for na­tional con­sump­tion yearly. The hec­tarage un­der the ce­real has av­er­aged 16 000 over the past decade, which is too low to pro­duce suf­fi­cient wheat for the na­tion.

The poor per­for­mance is blamed on er­ratic power sup­plies and high pro­duc­tion costs. With­out re­li­able electricity sup­ply, farm­ers can­not ir­ri­gate. We, how­ever, note that Zesa has done well to min­imise power cuts this year. What farm­ers want, go­ing for­ward, is for them to be guar­an­teed that if they plant wheat, there would be con­stant electricity sup­ply through­out win­ter for them to ir­ri­gate it and suc­ceed.

On high pro­duc­tion costs, we urge the Gov­ern­ment to as­sist farm­ers, given that many of them are new on the land and lack re­sources to fi­nance a com­mer­cial wheat grow­ing en­ter­prise. But it is not just the Gov­ern­ment that can help in the re­cov­ery in wheat grow­ing — bak­ers have a role too. They need to start con­tract grow­ing sys­tems with lo­cal farm­ers. Banks can do much more as well. This en­sures that the econ­omy saves money. In­stead of spend­ing $169 mil­lion im­port­ing wheat to cover the short­fall as was done last sea­son, they chan­nel it to ca­pac­i­tate lo­cal farm­ers. This saves jobs too. An­other key crop that has al­ways needed closer at­ten­tion, but has hap­pily got it is maize. Fre­quent droughts for an in­dus­try that re­lies on the sum­mer rains have over the past few years hit grow­ers of the sta­ple crop, re­sult­ing in re­cur­rent food short­ages.

We are en­cour­aged by the Gov­ern­ment’s in­ter­ven­tion through the $500 mil­lion com­mand agri­cul­ture scheme. To start this year and run for three sea­sons, the pro­gramme would see se­lected farm­ers putting 400 000ha un­der maize coun­try­wide. Each of them should be able to ir­ri­gate their crop and would re­ceive free inputs. At har­vest time, each of them would be bound to de­liver five tonnes to the Grain Mar­ket­ing Board.

To­bacco has done well, but grow­ers should as­pire to sur­pass the 2000 record of 237 mil­lion kg. We ex­pect maize to do well from next sea­son with the new com­mand ap­proach. A lot of work is needed in wheat grow­ing.

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