By Margaret Kamba

Land preparation for the tobacco growing season has begun in most tobacco growing communities.

The process which involves the clearing of land and for some, the growing of the plant has begun with tobacco farmers expecting a good season. Prices can go as high as US$6 per kilogramme if not more.

The farmers are therefore well aware that a late start to the whole process results in missing deadlines and loss of big monies.

The gold leaf is currently one of the major foreign currency earners for the country and has changed the lives of many that have dared to try the crop apart from the usual crops.

Attempts to discourage the growth of burley tobacco have been made by the West before. Like the argument that Zimbabwe had blood diamonds from some years ago which was aimed at ensuring that our diamonds do not get a market, our tobacco is fetching a lot, thanks to the climate we have and the hard working nature of men and women who put their heart to the economic growth of their Zimbabwe.

A recent drive across some communities in Mashonaland East Province has shown a huge difference in the type of housing structures in these villages.

Whereas in the past most villages were characterised by the round huts, these homesteads now have the tobacco barns, round kitchen huts and two or more bedroomed houses with corrugated iron sheets if not asbestors.

Occasionally you can see a car parked in one or two homesteads either being fixed or something in time for the acquisition of the supplies for the growing season.

With the rocket barn promoted by the WWF, life could also be a lot easier as these use less fuel load thereby conserving the woodlots used for tobacco curing.

Many before have been using indigenous trees which take many years to grow, for tobacco curing while the gum tree takes a shorter period.

Commenting on the myths and truths about the gum tree, South African based scientist and researcher Dr Thulani Tshabalala says "the gum tree is an exotic tree not indigenous. Gum trees can drink up to 50 litres of water a day. Some of these exotic trees are of a commercial value for example gum poles. Therefore it's a trade off because none of the indigenous trees can do that. There is need to find a local alternative."

Some farmers have been transporting coal from as far as Hwange for tobacco curing through the use of the goods train. Many however felt otherwise about this arrangement.

Small tobacco fields already prepared during this time await the growing of the leaf that was predominantly grown by the white commercial farmer with the black man only as a grader or other and paid very little farm wages.

The Land Reform Programme which has seen over 300 000 black farmers is transforming the lives of many people.

The Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board TIMB and Tian Ze among other companies are helping farmers acquire the much needed expertise for better yields and grades.

The TIMB has also taught farmers to grow their own tobacco nurseries using float trays seen in many homesteads. With the right nurturing on the nurseries and the right land preparations, a good harvest is assured.

Any farmer who has ventured into tobacco farming will never want to let go of the crop no matter the prices. He or she understands when and how to release his crop to have more value for it.

A chat with some farmers in Mashonaland East Province revealed that they have never been more grateful for the Land Redistribution Programme.

Josiah Ngorima said "I am grateful for the Land Reform because without it, I would not be able to do farming which I am enjoying at the moment," he said.

"I used to work in the urban area but I left and I have never been more fulfilled."

Silas Mambo said learning the crop before going full throttle is the way to go.

"I grow tobacco which I started at a small level. Now I have increased my hectares because I am learning the crop bit by bit," Mambo said.

"The problem with many of us new farmers is that we rush into these crops without knowing them because we have seen our neighbours getting paid very well during that season. We are unaware of the work that must be put in to get to that position. You save yourself a lot of trouble if you learn bit by bit until you get the hang of the crop then you increase your planting hectarage."

The tobacco grown by black farmers has surpassed that which was grown by the white farmers over the years before the Land Reform Programme.

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