ZIMBABWEAN tobacco a major foreign currency earner for the country is facing international ban owing to contamination of the crop by dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) residue.
DDT is classified as a highly hazardous pesticide and banned internationally in agriculture production but was approved for use in 2006 by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the fight against Malaria in epidemic and endemic areas through the Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) programme.
While Zimbabwean tobacco farmers do not use DDT in the production process contamination of the crop occurs when health officials in a bid to combat Malaria spray DDT inside tobacco barns and packing shades in a bid to stop mosquitoes from breeding in the buildings.
The situation has left Zimbabwe authorities in a catch 22 situation as they cannot afford to halt the noble exercise to eradicate malaria on one hand while on the other a loss in tobacco income would cripple an economy desperate for foreign currency earnings to stay afloat.
Over 165 000 farmers predominantly smallholder have registered to grow the crop in the 2018/19 season.
Contamination of Zimbabwe tobacco by DDT residue was source of heated debate at the CORESTA (Cooperation Centre for Scientific Research Relative to Tobacco) meeting a gathering of researchers in tobacco producing countries which was hosted in China recently.
An official with the Tobacco Research Board (TRB) who spoke on condition of anonymity said research by merchants and whose findings were presented at the CORESTA meeting showed that Zimbabwe tobacco was the only contaminated by DDT among other producing countries.
Most affected of the tobacco crop is grown in the eastern parts of the country this also has high incidences of malaria.
The official said merchants are concerned that most markets do not accept tobacco that has traces of DDT residue and unless Zimbabwe resolves the issue they may decide to shun the local crop.
“In china at the CORESTA meeting merchants released findings to their research which showed that Zimbabwe tobacco was contaminated by DDT residue and this was of great concern.
DDT is a consistent pollutant and most markets like EU check tobacco for residues and once a crop tests positive it is not accepted so merchants are not happy with the losses. So it will be a big blow for the country considering that 90 percent of our country is exported and a major foreign currency earner,” said the official.
The official said the minister of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement Perrance Shiri was promptly made aware of the findings upon return.
An official with the ministry Taurai Matyora said while other pesticides could be used to curb malaria it will take time as research needs to be carried out on what effect the alternative will have on tobacco.