Zimbabwe risks shedding some of its sugar export share due to a myriad of challenges bedeviling the industry, chief of pests in production.
Although the country has adequate stocks of sugar to meet local market demand, as it is a net exporter of sugar, it is the high incidences of diseases that are posing a threat to the industry.
Dr Dahlia Garwe, corporate and industry affairs executive at Tongaat Hulett Zimbabwe, says the production of sugarcane is significantly affected by several insects ,weeds and pathogens commonly referred to as pests – with the most common being aphids and stemborers.
“The yellow sugarcane aphid (Sipha flava) is one such significant insect pest prevalent in the sugarcane industry,” she says, highlighting the importance of having to control and manage this pest.
Aphids directly suck sap from the sugarcane,” she explained to The Afronews recently, stressing that infestation results in a reduced photosynthetic leaf area negatively impacting sugar production.
Not only that but the increased damage caused by many insects consuming the actual sugarcane leaves leads to reduced water efficiency and yield efficiency!
Dr Garwe, who has more than 25 years’ experience in molecular characterization and diagnostics, biochemistry and tissue culture techniques, says pests are a cause for concern.
“Average infestation in the industry is about 5 percent and sugar lost is around4 percent,” she notes, encouraging farmers to manage infestations by using Allice 20SP and Actara 25WG,”a soil-applied pesticide to protect the young cane which is more vulnerable to infestation.
Despite the myriad of challenges, farmers’ productivity levels have been on a n upward trajectory – with a jump in average yield per hactare from about 50tc/ha to 72tc/ha in the last 10 years”.
Most of the sugarcane is grown extensively in Chiredzi, Masvingo, in the south-eastern Lowveld where THZ has large estates of Hippo Valley and Triangle. In addition, THZ has an arrangement with out-grower farmers – where women constitute around 35 percent of the farmer population – and provides them with inputs including fertilizers, fuel and pesticides on a recovery basis.
Dr Garwe, who is also a Fellow of the Zimbabwe Academy of Sciences and a board member of the Research Council of Zimbabwe, Biotechnology Trust of Zimbabwe, SeedCo and the Harare Institute of Technology, says “this agricultural extension service is executed diligently through a full-fledged scheme “founded on a bedrock of robust research and development whose essence is to increase sugarcane in the country and grow the economy”.