RUSAPE – Tobacco farmers are decimating the country’s 350 000 hectares of forests, with 20 percent of the forests lost to tobacco curing, the Forestry Commission (FC) has said.
“Tobacco is not being grown sustainably but there will come a time in future that if you don’t have a woodlot you won’t be allowed to sell your tobacco,” Abednigo Marufu, FC deputy general manager (GM) said on Saturday at the unveiling ceremony of Rukweza High School Tree Seedling Nursery.
Marufu said while between 9,5 and 10 million trees were planted last year, most of them were again lost to veld fires.
“The problem is that of looking after them,” the deputy GM said.
“There will be a deficit of timber in 20 years if we don’t do something.”
The Rukweza High School nursery was established by Nyaradzo Group’s Friends of the Environment (FOTE) following Chief Makoni’s invitation.
Phillip Mataranyika, Nyaradzo Group chief executive officer (CEO) said: “We know that this region has many tobacco farmers who need firewood to cure their tobacco. This need for firewood has led to our forests being laid to waste as people cut down trees for tobacco curing.”
Didymus Mutasa, minister of State for Presidential Affairs, said: “It hurts me to see the level of environmental degradation that is taking place all over this region… This is as a result of the indiscriminate rate at which we have been cutting down our trees. I know that we need firewood for our tobacco curing and for other day to day needs, but it is just wrong to cut down trees. We need to replace what we cut down.”
Prince Mupazviriho, ministry of Environment, Water and Climate permanent secretary, urged locals to buy seedlings from the school to re-green the heavily depleted forests.
“Today tobacco farming is causing much ecological damage,” Mupazviriho said.
“We are bearing the brunt of that legacy, specifically the depletion of our forests and woodlots. Tobacco curing requires wood, and tress have been cut down at alarming rates in the main tobacco growing areas of this region."
“I would like to urge the people of Rukweza to buy these tree seedlings from the school, plant many trees and help return our region to its glory days.”
Mark Nyahada, acting Chief Makoni, said his district was taking seriously a Zimbabwe National Statistical Agency’s 2010 statement that “if we don’t do something about the environment, this country will be a desert in 52 years.”
Chief Makoni said it was a good step for government to demand from tobacco growers to state the source of their curing fuel and how many trees they would have planted in any given year.
Mashonaland Tobacco Company (MTC) has struck a deal with FOTE in which it will buy seedlings for their farmers to establish woodlots for curing their tobacco.
MTC has already bought 40 000 seedlings from the Rukweza High School nursery as the funeral assurance and service provider also donated 20 motor bikes to Agritex Officers to support Makoni District’s re-greening drive.
The district has an ambitious target of plating 6,5 million trees this rainy season under the reforestation drive if each of the 65 000 households manages to plant 100 trees.
Makoni already had a Household Tree Planting Project launched at Chigudu Primary School in Chendambuya back in July which also sought to redress deforestation in the district.
FOTE is hoping to facilitate the planting of 500 million trees by 2026.