TOBACCO, Zimbabwe’s largest foreign currency earner, is under threat as uncontrollable pests and diseases have invaded fields, Dahlia Garwe, Tobacco Research Board director, has said.
The tobacco industry contributes significantly to the growth of the economy, raking in slightly over $1 billion in export earnings for 2018.
“We have rules and regulations that people have stopped following and, as a result, problems such as aphid borne Potato Virus Y (PVY) have become a huge problem for the sector. There is no cure for it at the moment,” Garwe told a tobacco workshop in Harare.
“If we allow PVY to get out of control, then we have no industry to talk about. The other problem is that of pesticide residues being detected in Zimbabwean tobacco being exported to the international market. If we are unable to sell our crop outside Zimbabwe, what is going to happen?” she asked.
A number of rules and regulations that protect the tobacco industry are in place but growers often ignore them.
The delay by farmers in removing tobacco stalks within the stipulated dates to prevent the establishment and spread of pests and diseases has become a major problem, resulting in the increase of PVY.
Also, residues of pesticides that are no longer acceptable in the tobacco industry internationally and some like DDT that have been banned completely, are being detected on the exported cured leaf and this will have a detrimental effect on the country’s earnings.
The other major threat is deforestation that has resulted in more than 330 000 hectares of indigenous forests being lost annually.
Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement permanent secretary Ringson Chitsiko said there was need to find lasting solutions as the industry was under threat.
He said regulators should instill discipline in the sector.
“Growers have huge responsibilities and a role to play in enabling sustainability in tobacco production through strict adherence to set regulations. There has been wanton disregard of those rules and regulations that enable the tobacco sector to be sustainable going into the future,” Chitsiko said.
In the 1960s, PVY affected tobacco in the northern areas with yield losses as high as 100 percent being recorded, especially on the late tobacco crops.
This led to the introduction of the legislation on dates for planting and destruction of stalks.
Tobacco plants must be destroyed by May 15, seedbeds should not be sown before June 1 of each year and seedlings should not be transplanted into the fields before September 1.