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March 26, 2008

Zimbabwe to phase out methyl bromide in tobacco seedling production by 2009

Zimbabwean agriculture minister Rugare Gumbo rcently commissioned a US$3 million Expanded Polystyrene production factory at Kutsaga Research Station outside Harare that is expected to boost tobacco seedling production in the country.

The Tobacco Research Board Kutsaga EPS factory produces tobacco seedling float trays and other polythene products such as fish boxes and cooler boxes.

Speaking at the official opening, Gumbo said the establishment of the factory comes at a time when the country is phasing out the use of chemicals in tobacco seedling production, grain fumigation and others.

"In Zimbabwe, methyl bromide is used in tobacco seed production, grain fumigation and other horticulture production. However, the Montreal Protocol requires that countries completely phase out use of the chemical by 2015. Zimbabwe has taken an initiative to gradually phase out its tobacco seedbeds by next year. To this end, we have researched on a number of chemical and non-chemical alternatives (and) one such tobacco seedling production system researched on by our TRB and found to have advantages is the float tray system," Gumbo said.

Some of the advantages of the float tray system include use of fewer and smaller quantities of chemicals, employment of cost-effective integrated management systems for pests and diseases and use of less water and fertilizers. Float trays also help in the production of more uniform seedlings that ensure easier field management and the establishment of permanent seedbed sites that require less space.

The TRB has recommended that the tobacco industry use float trays while bringing the float tray production technology with over 20 000 farmers having been trained to use them for tobacco seedling production.

Gumbo said the EPS machine, the most advanced of its type in Africa, would help the TRB in generating foreign currency to fund some of its activities. "The country would, through the use of this factory, save foreign currency that would have been used to import the float trays while also effectively serving the local market," he said.

Tobacco farmers in Zimbabwe need at least two million float trays for tobacco seedling production.

TRB board chairman Dr Robbie Mupawose said although the Kutsaga Research Station was established specifically for tobacco research, the station has diversified its operations to include seedling production among other activities.

"The station needs foreign currency to operate and we now offer services such as water analysis, research services and beef certification for the export market," he said. He said the factory had won a tender to supply float trays worth US$1,5 million but the factory was not getting enough electricity to power the machine. "We are currently using diesel to power the plant and although the plant has to run for 24 hours we have cut operations by 12 hours,"
Mupawose said.

The Herald

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