The Sunday Mail
Theseus Shambare recently in GURUVE
FORGET the conventional sight of burly men hunched over rows of green leaves tending tobacco plants on a farm.
A typical day in the field at Tapiwanashe Farm in Guruve, Mashonaland Central province, tells a different story.
Here, amid bursts of laughter coming from the sun-kissed fields, women reign supreme, weaving their magic into the heart of Zimbabwe’s tobacco industry, where production reached an all-time high last year.
These women are not your ordinary farmhands — they are artisans, delicately navigating two-metre-tall plants with budding flowers.
With experienced hands, they engage in a delicate cross-pollination ritual, moving from one plant to the other.
Cross-pollination, a critical step in producing tobacco seed, involves transferring pollen from the flower of a male tobacco plant to the flower of a female plant.
They delicately open the flowers on the male plant and insert binders before extracting pollen with the gentlest touch, which will later be introduced to the female plant, ensuring the future of the crop.
The women’s meticulousness and attention to detail are key to successful tobacco seed production, which is the backbone of the industry, and, by extension, the local economy.
In the 2023 selling season, the country achieved a record output of 296,1 million kg worth US$896 million.
Mr Sydney Gwaze, the owner of Tapiwanashe Farm, initially believed men were better suited for tobacco seed production.
However, it soon became clear to him that rows that yielded disappointing results were largely tended by men. He could only draw one conclusion — male workers could not match the women’s dedication.
Mr Gwaze discovered that precision, patience and the innate feminine touch were the true recipe for success.
“Men are generally impatient by nature,” he said.
“They usually want to use force or hurriedly complete tasks.
“By doing so, they sometimes damage the flower.
“This process requires soft handling of the flowers.”
Tobacco seed production is a multi-step process that demands careful attention to detail.
It involves planting male and female parent plants separately.
After the male plant reaches the initial blooming stage, pollen is picked up from its flower and stored.
When the female parent plant reaches the full-bloom stage, pollen from the male plant is manually inserted into the female plant’s flower, a process that “man would mess up”, said Mr Gwaze.
Failure to follow the prescribed procedures, he said, will lead to poor seed yield.
When all crops have reached maturity, cross-pollination is done daily.
In tobacco seed production, natural cross-pollination by insects like bees is avoided to ensure intended results are realised.
Mr Tatenda Mugabe, a public relations and communications officer at Kutsaga, the country’s tobacco research institute, said empirical evidence shows that women perform better in producing tobacco seed.
“It is clear, our hands are different; we handle things in a different manner and in this case, women command this area,” he said.
“Women are perfectionists if you give them a chance.”
Tapiwanashe Farm offers a glimpse into how women are leading the charge in the tobacco sector, and redefining who holds the reins of a crop once thought was only for men.
It is a scenario where women are rewriting the narrative, staking their claim not just in the fields, but throughout the industry.
Kutsaga’s head of seed production Mrs Christina Chisango also plays a pivotal role in managing field inspectors and ensuring they do their job in line with international standards.
“I also do unannounced visits to our farmers,” she said.
“We do this to ensure that farmers are always alert and paying particular attention to detail. Every stage in seed production is crucial.
“I would not want to see our farmers’ efforts be in vain.”
Mrs Rhoda Mavuka, who heads Kutsaga’s crop production and molecular technologies division, is responsible for the new commercial tissue culture micropropagation department, which is producing horticulture seedlings.
Her division provides information on efficient, effective and sustainable crop management practices, as well as assist with rapid and accurate molecular diagnostics and characterisation services for pests, diseases and plant genotypes.
Further, Dr Susan Dimbi, the executive director of research and extension services at the institute, is at the centre of all plant breeding and molecular technologies, helping ensure good plant health.
Mrs Theresa Madziva is responsible for finance and corporate services at Kutsaga, ensuring robust accountability around tobacco seed production, while Mrs Mavis Nyakachiranje is presently the acting director of business development and marketing.
Overall, gentle hands are the ones that are reaping the sweetest harvest in the local tobacco industry.