Pest attacks threaten tobacco output—farmers

Some tobacco farmers in the Central Region have decried pest attacks on tobacco, which they fear will likely reduce the crop’s output this year.

The discovery comes at a time Tobacco Commission and players in the tobacco industry are conducting tobacco crop assessment to ascertain preliminary volume for the season.

A farmer appreciates his tobacco crop

This year’s tobacco buyers’ demand is pegged at 154.3 million kilogrammes (kgs), which is three percent higher than the demand of 149.6 million kg last year.

One of the tobacco farmers, Azani Aliyere, said in an interview on Wednesday on the sidelines of a field visit at Mitundu in Lilongwe organised by AHL Group  that there are twin challenges of the armyworms and too much rains that is washing away fertiliser nutrients, which is not good for leaf development.

He said: “The armyworms are attacking the fresh leaves; hence, affecting the prospective tobacco leaf.

“The other problem is soil leaching due to heavy rains that is washing away nutrients and this also affects leaf quality.”

Aliyere said in a good season, he produces 45 bales of tobacco from three hectares, but said with the challenges, he will only produce below under 30 bales.

Meanwhile, officials from TC and Tama Farmers Trust have refused to comment on the impact of the armyworms on the crop assessment is done and a full report is released.

But Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development spokesperson Priscilla Mateyu on Wednesday confirmed the ministry is aware of the problem, indicating that officials will continue to disburse free pesticides aimed at controlling and managing the pests.

She said:  “As a ministry, we are already working with farmers in identifying pests and how we can control them.” 

Mateyu said the ministry’s crop protection officers are gathering data on how the pests will impact output.

She advised farmers to continuously do random inspections of their fields.

Tobacco is touted as Malawi’s main foreign exchange earner, which brings in about 60 percent of foreign exchange earnings, and 13 percent to the economy. n

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