Tobacco farmers from Mvurwi have called for stiffer penalties for growers who are not adhering to legislation stipulating the destruction of tobacco stalks to prevent the spread of pests and disease.

Non-adherence to tobacco stalk destruction has become a major threat to production of the golden leaf in Zimbabwe as quality levels are declining due to uncontrollable pests and disease.

Farmers in Mvurwi said penalties stipulated in the Plant Diseases Act are not punitive enough, leading to non-compliance.

“If they raise the fine, we will comply because $20 is nothing for someone who has sold 20 bales of tobacco. The only lasting solution for me is the withdrawal of offer letters because such negligence is hurting us as farmers,” said one farmer.

Agritex is on a stalk destruction campaign and Mashonaland Central provincial agronomist, Izah Jaidi said compliance is worryingly low.

“We are talking of 50 percent compliance and this is 10 July while stalks should have been destroyed before 15 May, so this will only lead to more pests,” he said.

According to Mazowe district agronomist, Joseph Garati, pests and disease strains will increasingly be uncontrollable if farmers do not take remedial action.

Tobacco industry statistics show that 95 000 hectares of the golden leaf was planted in 2019 up from 67 000 hectares in 2018 but growers are earning less each year due to low quality.

The important dates that farmers should observe to restrict insect borne viruses are plant destruction by 15 May, seed sowing on 1 June or after and planting in the fields on or after 1 September each year.