Freak storm shreds tobacco in Makoni
A HAILSTORM recently destroyed 60 percent of high value tobacco in Makoni District, leaving most largescale farmers agonising over their precious source of income just weeks before harvest.
Most of the tobacco planted on September 1 took a severe battering from the freak storm, putting an abrupt end to harvesting that had just started hugely frustrating the growers who were looking for a reasonable return from their investment.
The crop took the brunt of the rains that started last Thursday shattering 60 percent of the crop along its path.
The worst affected farms were in Headlands and Rusape, essentially the tobacco growing hub of Manicaland.
One of the worst affected farmers, Mr Denford Mutwiwa, of Mutwiwa Farm in Headlands, said it was disturbing that 75 hectares of his crop suffered damage a few days before harvest. His first reap was expected at the end of this month.
“I am still agonising over the brutal effects of the hailstones, that destroyed 75ha of my tobacco a few weeks before harvest. The sensitive tobacco leaves were shredded, poke-marked and ripped by hailstones. The crop was at the sensitive growth stage (18 leaves), but was pruned, and I am in a quandary and unsure if it will rebound or not,” said Mr Mutwiwa.
He said although the crop was insured, the hailstones dealt him a devastating blow and exterminated hopes of a bumper harvest.
“I am known for growing high quality tobacco, and the 75ha is gone for good. The crop was almost ripe. There is nothing (left) at the fields. Even though the crop was insured, it was depressing to discover that the entire crop I had worked on so hard was wiped out in a flash just like that.
“I had welcomed the rains as a blessing, but sadly they dashed my hopes of a bumper harvest after my almost-ripe tobacco was shredded totally,” said Mr Mutwiwa.
Tobacco Association of Zimbabwe (TAZ) president Mr David Guy Mutasa, whose crop was partially damaged, said the situation at some farms was “so extensive” that even if the crop survived, longer-term impacts, such as poor leaf quality, were likely.
“The impact in our Chimbi area was minimal, but in Headlands it was severe. Tobacco that can recover after being defoliated is one at early stage of growth, and the rest of the crop that is at the topping stage will be a write-off. The plants were pruned and the growth points were damaged. That crop is gone for good and those farmers should consider growing maize on those fields to get a better yield, which will compensate for the deficit that insurers may not cover.
“It’s quite a bad start to the summer cropping season, as the larger percentage of large-scale commercial farmers in Headlands were hard hit by the hailstones,” said Mr Mutasa.
Provincial agricultural extension officer for Manicaland Mrs Philipa Rwambiwa said in some cases the damage was extensive while in others it was moderate and the crop could fully recover.
She said regardless of the mishap, farmers still had ample time to replant.
“They can still replant if the seedlings are available. We still have time for planting. We encourage farmers to insure their crops.
“I heard that some farmers had insured their crop. We have instances where the damaged crop is at early stage of growth, and may fully recover. Lower damaged leaves can be removed. We also have the September 1, 2017 crop which was destroyed and chances of recovery are very remote,” she said.