Wimbainashe Zhakata Post Correspondent
TOBACCO farmers in Manicaland have planted 1 000 hectares of irrigated tobacco and are being encouraged to plant the dryland crop early to circumvent the likely danger of El Nino-induced low rainfall expected in the province.
This follows the 2018/19 seasonal rain forecast for Zimbabwe recently released by the Meteorological Services Department (MSD) which indicated that during the October-November-December period, there are high chances of normal rainfall with a bias towards below normal across the whole country.
Over 124 000 tobacco farmers have so far registered to grow the cash crop during the 2018-19 season compared to 84 000 who registered last season.
At least 30 000 farmers among the 124 000 registered for the first time.
The registrations are 47 percent more than those recorded during the same period last year.
Manicaland tobacco specialist Mr Douglas Nzarayebani said farmers growing irrigated tobacco started transplanting in September adding that they should take the warning seriously and plant the dryland crop early to get better yield.
He said tobacco is a crop that requires high humidity.
“We have tobacco farmers in the province who planted the irrigated tobacco crop from September 1. The majority of farmers will plant the dryland crop, and even though tobacco is resistant to dry conditions, farmers should make sure that they cultivate it early to avoid loss of moisture,” he said.
Mr Nzarayebani said 876 hectares of irrigated tobacco have been planted in the province.
Makoni district has the largest hecterage at 655, Mutasa 155ha and the remainder was planted in Mutare district.
He also said over 26 000 hectares of both irrigated tobacco and dry land this year are expected to be grown in the province this year.
Zimbabwe is the major flue-cured tobacco producer in Africa and occupies fifth position in the world as many communal farmers joined the lucrative farming sector following the land reform programme.
The 2018 flue-cured tobacco deliveries have reached a record 252 million kilogrammes, the highest ever in the history of the country.
The previous record was 237 million kg, which was achieved in 2000.
The increase in tobacco production has been attributed to high prices and an organised market, availability of funding through contractors and Government.
Tobacco has earned a strategic position in the economy because of its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product and foreign currency earnings.
In Zimbabwe, over three million people depend on the industry for their livelihoods.
Meanwhile the provincial chief meteorological officer Mr Lucas Murambi said farmers must to follow the 10 day forecast because the weather might change anytime.
“There is a 60 percent chance of receiving below normal rainfall during the seasonal forecast period 2018/19. The 40 percent of normal rainfall should not be ruled out during the forecast periods of October, November, December to January, February, March 2019,” he said.
“There will be a daily weather forecasts and 10 day weather bulletins that will take into account any changes and as the MSD we advise all farmers to follow these updates and not only rely on seasonal forecast,” said Mr Murambi.
He said the 10-day forecast will advise farmers if there will be dry spells or flash floods, among many other weather changes.
Mr Murambi said the MSD was considering other options like cloud seeding to increase rainfall.