Buhle Nkomo —
Ketie Chapata (43) a small scale tobacco farmer based in Odzi in Manicaland Province could not contain her excitement after the successful installation of a drip facility at her plot last Friday.
“I am over the moon. This means better yield, improved quality and more money. I can now transplant beginning of September and do not have to wait for the onset of the rains. Last season my yield was low and so was my average price of $2,50 per kilogramme. With drip irrigation I can plan my planting, reaping and curing. When my crop is in stress I can do something about it, that is the power of drip irrigation,” said Chapata.
“Farming is my major source of livelihood hence I cannot afford to sit on my laurels, now that I have the drip facility, I will apply for the rocket barn facility as well as for the command agriculture programme,” added on Chapata.
“If tobacco fails for one reason or another, I should be able to fall back onto my poultry project or my horticulture farming both of which I started from proceeds from tobacco to augment my income. Last season my tobacco was affected by sun burn and pythium root rot disease but with water I believe these challenges are easier to manage,” said Chapata.
“My contract with TIMB does not restrict the use of the drip facility only to tobacco farming hence I will be able to also water my vegetable garden and make more money. In fact, it is easier to produce tobacco when you have money,” she added on.
Drip irrigation is generally considered the most appropriate agriculture technology amid the climate change challenges faced by tobacco farmers across the country.
A prolonged dry spell during the critical growing stage of the crop can greatly affect yield and to address this issue, the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) came up with drip irrigation initiative for tobacco farmers with a revolving fund accessed from financial services at very low interest rates and payable over two seasons.
Tobacco farmers are urged to apply for the drip irrigation system offered by TIMB for a quality crop and increased yields. For a farmer to qualify for the drip irrigation programme, they should have a water source such as a borehole, weir, river or dam and should have been farming tobacco in the last two seasons.
If one does not qualify for the TIMB scheme but have the required amount of money which is plus or minus $1 500 per hectare, they can also approach Driptech or another competent company independently for a suitable irrigation design.
While our national average yield is 2 200 kilogrammes per hectare, irrigated crop can surpass 4 000kg per hectare if managed properly hence TIMB is pushing for drip irrigation as one way of adapting to climate change.
Drip irrigation is suitable for small scale farmers who do not have water in abundance as it not only saves through directing water to the plant but is also cheaper in terms of pumping costs.
With drip irrigation water is applied directly on the plant and the land between the plant rows remains dry thereby reducing weeds on the field. Some weeds have diseases that they are normally associated with and they can also be a source of non-tobacco related material.
Irrigation reduces the amount of scalding of upper leaves and firing of lower leaves during dry weather and can also improve the curability of crop if the tobacco is harvested during hot weather.
Farmers with an irrigation facility should develop an irrigation schedule to guide them on when to and when not to irrigate their crop as too much water can cause leaching.
For instance, irrigation after transplanting should be considered in all situations but between establishment and knee high stages of a crop, a little moisture stress is required as it encourages deeper root development which is beneficial during grand growth period as it also improves yield and quality.
Important to note is that irrigation is more efficient at night than during hot day time because of less evaporation. Tobacco farmers are encouraged to apply for the drip facility at TIMB regional offices near them.