THERE are widespread fears that the incessant rains pounding the country could lead to crop failure, especially tobacco — one of the country’s top forex earners — due to waterlogging and lack of direct sunlight.
Zimbabwe has been receiving normal to above normal rainfall since the onset of the rainy season last year, resulting in some areas with light soils experiencing waterlogging.
Farmers who spoke to The NewsHawks said the situation was becoming bad for tobacco farmers, whose crop is mostly grown on lighter soils.
“We are so lucky to receive rains this season after three consecutive dry seasons. So far, we have received well above normal rainfall across the whole country. We were in a very critical condition due to the dry spells,” Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union vice-president Maiwepi Jiti said.
“Though the rains are a blessing to our animals and our cereal crops which are in very excellent condition especially crops that are in heavy and well-drained soils, it is now too much for crops in wetlands, especially for the tobacco crop.
“Tobacco is a crop which doesn’t do well under excessive rains. The crop ripens faster, forcing farmers to employ extra expensive labour or risk losing the crop due to over-ripening and the crop loses a lot of weight,” she said.
Jiti also said farmers can lose the crop due to limited curing facilities.
“In waterlogged areas, crops are wilting, especially tobacco plants. Leaching of the expensive fertilizers is also a challenge on all crops. Crops like maize and other cereals farmers have been forced to re-apply fertilizers due to leaching,” she said.
Jiti said the situation was bad to farmers who are growing crops on wetlands as the lands are now waterlogged such that tractors fail to work in those areas, “forcing farmers to use limited labour to carry tobacco bundles out of the lands at a cost to the farmer, of course.”
Former Federation of Farmers’ Union chairman Wonder Chabikwa said: “As per forecast, yes, the whole country is receiving normal to above normal rains. Good for livestock grazing, dams, underground water table and generally supplying moisture to crops at optimum to above optimum.
“Naturally, our lighter soils with their inherent low water-holding capacity are negatively being affected in terms of leaching of nitrogen while black soils are suffering waterlogging which creates anaerobic conditions not conducive for most of our summer crops.
“Tobacco, our biggest cash cow, is mostly grown on lighter soils and suffering waterlogging, leaching and false ripening, which may see hand reaping and curing facilities failing to cope hence loss of part of the crop,” he said.
Chabikwa, however, said positives of the incessant rains far outweigh the negatives at national scale.
Individual growers might suffer localised losses, he said.
Zimbabwe Tobacco Association chairman Rodney Ambrose said they were still conducting crop assessment to determine the impact so far.
“I can’t comment on that because we are still doing crop assessment. But I am sure there are pockets where there has been some excessive rain which results in leaching of the crop nutrients and some bit of ripening of the crops. But right now, I can’t comment on the impact of that, it’s a bit early because we are still conducting our crop assessment,” he said.
Tobacco is one of the biggest foreign currency earners in the country, raking in hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
At least 168 million kg of tobacco worth US$688 million had been exported across the globe by 20 November 2020, according to the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB).
The crop earned Zimbabwe US$733 million during the same period in 2019.
According to the latest TIMB report, 1 703 new farmers have signed up to grow the golden leaf during the 2020/21 farming season. Contract growers constitute 96% of those who planted tobacco this season.
The area under tobacco increased to 28 292 hectares from 27 181 in 2019, according to the TIMB.
Most of the tobacco crop has been planted in Zimbabwe’s traditional golden leaf belts, with Mashonaland West province leading in area planted at 49%, followed by Mashonaland East at 28%, Mashonaland Central with 12.6% and Manicaland province, where 10% of the crop is being planted.