Wind blows away farmers’ investments

Harmony Agere and Livingstone Marufu —
WHILE crop insurance has always been the first commandment of tobacco farming, its uptake in the country has become lower over the last decade.

This has left farmers at risk of losing thousands of dollars should their crop be destroyed by either fire, hailstorms or other disasters.

The hailstorms that recently left large swathes of tobacco fields destroyed in Chegutu confirm the ever present possibility of crop destruction.

Reports say some of the affected farmers are small scale and had not insured their crop. Given the huge cost of planting tobacco, insurance should be the farmers’ top priority.

It costs between USD$1 400 and USD$ 1 600 to plant a hectare of tobacco and those who do more hectares are always expected to look after their investment. However, most farmers overlook insurance and thousands of dollars continue to get lost.

“We have not made a survey to quantify the value of destroyed crop this season but what we are aware of is that farmers in Chegutu, Hurungwe and Rusape are the most affected,” said Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president, Mr Wonder Chabikwa.

“A good number of the farmers had not insured their crop so it was a total loss.

It has always been the norm that farmers insure their tobacco but in recent years, we have been experiencing less and less hail storms in the country so some farmers gave up insuring their crop.”

Mr Chabikwa also said some unscrupulous insurance companies must share the blame.

“Some of the blame falls squarely on insurance companies because some have been duping farmers and a lot lost faith in the system,” he said.

Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) public relations manager, Isheunesu Moyo said although the recent hailstorms affected almost every area across the country, the irrigated golden leaf was the most affected crop as it was taller than the dry land crop which is still at its early stage.

“The windy hailstorms which swept across the country damaged most of the crops resulting in most irrigated tobacco being affected as it was taller and more vulnerable to wind and hail,” he said.

“We received reports from people on the ground is that most of the irrigated crop was savaged due to wind, leaving some farmers with no crop to talk about.

“This is going to negatively impact on our total output as we mainly depend on the irrigated crop for early marketing.

“This is a heavy loss to our farmers as the crop was at the reaping stage, one case in point is the Macheka farmer who had his two hectares written off by these harsh weather conditions. He had to replant the area to compensate the affected crop.

“Dry land crop was also affected but not as much as the irrigated one since it was still short, therefore wind can’t break the tender crop as it will have few leaves and be much closer to the ground,” he said.

Mr Moyo urged farmers to insure their crop, adding that they should construct wind breaks by planting more trees around open fields.

According to the Journal of International Business and Cultural Studies, agriculture attracts less insurance when compared to other sectors such as manufacturing and mining.

“The uptake of insurance services in the agricultural sector is generally low as compared to other sectors of the economy like manufacturing, mining and services sectors across the world, and Zimbabwe is no exception.

“Farmers view insurance as an unnecessary expense rather than an investment to curtail future risk, especially given the small size of their holdings.”

Tobacco is one of Zimbabwe’s top exports.

During the 2015/16 tobacco selling season, total tobacco farmers’ earnings rose to US$595 million after selling 201 million kilogrammes from US$586 million obtained after selling 198 million kgs during the 2014/15 season.

Buoyed by last season’s success, tobacco growers’ registration has this year increased by 6 percent to 73 492 from 69 518 tobacco farmers during the 2015/2016 tobacco farming season.

The area planted has increased from 28 865 hectares last year to 32 865 hectares this year. The Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union said, “We are likely to have an increased hectarage this year due to the remarkable success we had under dry weather patterns.

“With better rains expected to grace us this year, the golden leaf is likely to improve further from last year’s total output. This is witnessed by an increase in the number of registered growers for the 2016/17 summer cropping season.”

Starting from November 1 to December 31, farmers will be charged US$10 registration fee. Those who do not register by month-end risk a US$10 penalty for late registration.

From January 1, 2017, the penalty for late registration balloons to US$40 and for those who do not register until the opening of auction floors, the penalty fee rises to US$90.

Penalties are designed to encourage farmers to register early as this will give TIMB accurate figures on the production levels of that particular year.

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