2012/13 tobacco season kicks off

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THE 2012/13 summer season is only two months away and it is high time we start necessary preparations as a country and as individuals. The tobacco season has already kicked off with the planting of irrigated tobacco on September 1.

Report by Peter Gambara
However, the bulk of the crop will be planted in November and December when rains come. A total of 144 million kg were sold at an average price of US$3,72 at a total of US$524 million. Considering that we export 97% of the crop, this is a substantial contribution to our inflows.

 
The Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) has indicated to date seed bought by farmers is enough to cover 116 000 hectares. Considering farmers are still purchasing seed and that the country’s average yield ranges between 1 200 to 1 300kg/ha and assuming we do receive normal rains, as predicted by the weather experts, the country should be able to produce approximately 180 million kg next season.

 
The tobacco area is one of those sectors where farmers are happy and are geared to definitely increase the planted crop this season. The good prices being fetched are proving to be a good incentive to farmers who have responded by increasing the areas put under the crop as well as improved fertiliser and chemicals usage. More than 50% of the crop is now being produced by small scale farmers.

 

We hope the recent economic planning workshop held in Victoria Falls came up with ways of reinforcing areas like tobacco that are performing well. Government can also play its part by investing some money into TIMB input schemes that are targeted towards the small-scale farmers as well as providing more resources to extension agents.

 
This past season, we were lucky that the world’s major tobacco producers were facing a drought. However, in a normal set-up we need to compete on the quality of the crop and this is where the extension agents will be useful in advising farmers to practise proper agronomic practices.

 
Most farmers who grew the crop this past season and realised good prices have already bought and stock-piled the necessary fertilisers and chemicals, but there will always be the odd farmer and the new players venturing into tobacco for the first time who will not be ready when the time comes.

 
Most A1 and A2 farmers have relied on the barns that they found on the farms without bothering to invest in their own and yet year-in, year-out we lose quite a substantial part of the crop because the storehouses cannot cope with the volumes being reaped at peak harvest time. They say fore-warned is fore-armed. So all those without adequate barn space, please start building extra barns now!

 
The country normally plants about two million hectares of maize and that should still be our target this summer season. However, we should put our house in order on time. Over the past few years, our neighbours to the north, Zambia and Malawi have surpassed us in terms of maize production and yet we used to be the leader in Southern Africa in the early 1980s.

 
Indications on the world market are that the largest maize producer, US, is facing a serious drought and that their production is likely to be affected to the tune of eight million metric tonnes. In view of this impending maize shortage, our northern neighbours are said to be contemplating banning maize exports and should that happen, we will be in serious trouble.

 
Minister of Agriculture Joseph Made and the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) general manager Albert Mandizha are singing from different hymn books. While the minister insists farmers should be paid on time, Mandizha is adamant they cannot pay without receiving the money from Treasury.

 
Farmers union leaders also added their voices, saying their members are still owed money from 2008/09 as well as from last year. We definitely do not need this kind of discord at this time of the year when farmers are expected to deliver their maize to GMB and when they are contemplating on which crops to grow next year. Besides, it just sends the wrong signals to farmers.
If we are to motivate farmers to grow maize viably, let us get our house in order now by making clear policy decisions. Why don’t we start by saying if GMB does not have the money on their hands, they should not take farmers’ maize. Once they receive a tranche from treasury, they buy maize that is equivalent to the money they have.

 
Cotton producers and ginners finally set down to discuss their problems and it seems they have now reached a common understanding on the way forward. Production this year was said to have surpassed 300 000 tonnes and hopefully we will be able to maintain the same hectarage that was planted last year.

 
We are also likely to lose a few cotton farmers to the lucrative tobacco growing, although most cotton farmers are in natural regions where it is not easy to switch to tobacco. Besides tobacco requires some substantial investment in barns, especially where they did not exist before.

 
The production of soya beans in this country picked up last season after stock feed manufacturers found themselves having to import soya bean meal all the way from India the previous season. The major players, led by Olivine and Surface Industries, sat down last year to form a soya bean production task force, but unfortunately the task force crumbled before the onset of the season. The initiative was good and those who spearheaded the task force should be encouraged to resuscitate it.

 
There is room for contract farming to succeed in soya bean production, just like is the case with tobacco and cotton. However there is need for strict screening of producers and cooperation from the producer associations and farmers unions to avoid side- marketing of the crop.

 
The drought that affected most of the drier parts of the country has brought about the need for farmers in those regions to reconsider their preference to grow maize instead of small grains like sorghum and millet.

 
The spokesperson for the fertiliser manufacturing companies, Misheck Kachere, was recently quoted as saying they anticipate manufacturing 300 000 metric tonnes for the local market. However, they do not have the necessary resources to produce that much.

 
Now that the parties to the coalition government are still to agree on the draft constitution, why can’t we use the US$100 million Finance minister Tendai Biti had set aside for the referendum to buy the necessary fertiliser ingredients as well as restart some of the machinery at the fertiliser manufacturing companies now?

 
Zimphos, which produces the phosphates that are used to make  basal fertilisers, actually used to export sulphuric acid, but now they have to import it due to break down of their plants. The responsible ministries should also pursue an option to retire the old top management at both Industrial Development Corporation and Zimphos as they seem to have run out of ideas.

 

  • Gambara is an agricultural economist and consultant with AgriExpert, a consultancy firm. He writes in his personal capacity.  His e-mail address is: pgambara@hotmail.com

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