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September 27, 2009

Tobacco growers in Zimbabwe switch to new seeding technology

More than 80 percent of tobacco growers have switched to the float bed system ahead of the 2010 deadline, head of the Nematology Department at Kutsaga Research Station, Mr Cleopas Chinheya revealed recently.

Mr Chinheya said methyl bromide was being phased out because it was hazardous to the environment. Use of the chemical has since dropped from 558 tonnes to less than 20 tonnes. Many farmers have been using methyl bromide to fumigate tobacco, horticultural seedbeds and grain silos.

"Tobacco growers are very interested in the new technology as it involves the use of fewer chemicals and in smaller quantities and requires only 20 square metres of land to produce seedlings for a hectare, compared to 100 square metres for the conventional seedbed," said Mr Chinheya.

He said a significant number of farmers had shown their interest in the technology and were getting trained at the research station.

"This year we had an increase in the uptake of float trays compared to the previous years. We are conducting daily training this year and we give farmers trays at the end of every session," said Mr Chinheya.

Under the float tray system, seeds are put in a tray that floats in water, removing the need for the hazardous chemical that affects the ozone layer.

Mr Chinheya said the programme, which is being implemented in partnership with the Tobacco Research Board (TRB) was also getting sponsorship from United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).

"We are also looking at other methods of seedbed preparation that minimise the use of environmentally hazardous chemicals," said Mr Chinheya.

The Government together with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism undertook to phase-out the use of methyl bromide in tobacco seedlings by end of the 2009/10 growing season. The project enables Zimbabwe to fulfill its obligation under the Montreal Protocol, five years before its deadline for methyl bromide phase-out of 2015.

In March 2008, the then Minister of Agriculture Rugare Gumbo commissioned a US$3 million Expanded Polystyrene production factory at Kutsaga Research Station outside Harare that is expected to boost tobacco seedling production. The factory produces tobacco seedling float trays and other polythene products such as fish boxes and cooler boxes.

"Zimbabwe has taken the 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 the TRB and found to have advantages is the float tray system," Minister Gumbo said then.

He said the products from the factory 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. Thousands of farmers have so far been trained on the use of the float trays.

The Herald

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