Government has urged tobacco farmers to be responsible and adhere to laid down regulations, especially on destroying stalks and crop residue, to avoid the spread of pests and diseases that might adversely affect a viable industry that has immensely contributed to the well-being of the economy.
Minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement Air Chief Marshal Perrance Shiri (Retired) made the call during his familiarisation tour at the Kutsaga Research Station yesterday.
Authorities mainly raised concern over the resurgence of a tobacco disease, Potato Virus Y (PVY). (PVY) is a viral disease that has the potential to wipe out the whole crop.
PVY had been under control for some years, but due to the failure by farmers to adhere to strict regulations of destroying stalks and crop residues, the disease has since resurfaced.
"It is unfortunate that we are experiencing a whole new culture where our farmers grow tobacco and are supposed to destroy the stems and residues of the plants by a given date.
"If farmers do not destroy the stalks, they encourage the spread of diseases from one generation to another crop for a number of years. We have witnessed farmers failing to do that timeously and others failing to destroy the stalks completely. Now, we end up with these challenges," he said. Minister Shiri urged farmers to be responsible.
"We need to change the way we do things. We need to be responsible. We had grown a viable industry, which contributes immensely towards the economy of this country and in particular earning foreign currency. We seem to be gradually destroying the industry through the failure to comply with legislation of destroying stalks.
"I call upon farmers to be responsible. It is our responsibility, all of us, to look after the in industry that has sustained us. It is there to sustain the economy of the country," he said.
The Plant Pests and Diseases Act (Chapter 19:08) makes it mandatory for tobacco farmers to destroy tobacco stalks on or before May 15.
Tobacco Research Board general manager Dr Dahlia Garwe also expressed concern over the disease, which she said had the potential to significantly affect output of the tobacco crop in Zimbabwe.
"We are extremely concerned about the incidence of the PVY. Our farmers have for a number of years ignored the legislation that was put in place to keep PVY on check. "Now we are starting to reap the "benefits" of our sins. The fact that we have failed to observe the legislation has meant that we are now seeing an outbreak of a disease that has been under control," said Dr Garwe.
"The problem with PVY is that it is viral disease and cannot be cured. It is different from bacterial disease that can be solved with a chemical remedy. We are really concerned that we are about to lose all the crop as Zimbabwe," she said.
"Farmers are also now growing potato, tomato and pepper on the same land. The crops have the same pests and diseases, so if a tomato crop has been affected by PVY, that disease will also move into tobacco," she added.
Dr Garwe urged farmers to go back to basics and produce crops in a sustainable way. Stalks act as a host for diseases and pests like nematodes and spider mites, hence destroying them starves the pests.
Early and complete destruction of tobacco stalks is effective in reducing carry-over of diseases and pests. Growers are also urged to observe the planting dates, transplanting and destruction of seedbeds.
The earliest date for sowing seed is June 1, while the earliest date for transplanting is September 1. All seedbeds are also expected to have been destroyed by December 31 every year.