The tobacco farming season poses a threat to global warming through deforestation.
It is that time of the year again—time for tobacco curing in the West Provinces—and the environment is at risk as farmers will be looking for firewood to cure their tobacco.
Farmers, especially in Hurungwe, which is the highest tobacco-producing district in the province, have contributed much to deforestation this season as they have felled indigenous trees to cure their tobacco.
Some of the farmers seem to be unaware of how important it is not to continuously cut down trees and have overlooked the effects of global warming and its impact in the future.
Equally, small-scale contract farmers are not excluded, as they are using both coal and firewood in curing their tobacco without considering reforestation.
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Due to the cost of electricity and its scarcity, the majority of farmers are resorting to firewood, which is easily available, posing a threat to global warming and ecosystem imbalance.
The Forestry Commission and Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) encourage tobacco farmers to have woodlots complementing the number of hectares planted so as to reduce deforestation.
Provincial Forestry Extension Manager Esther said that as an organization, they send out Forestry Officers to districts on patrols during the tobacco curing period and are arresting farmers found with firewood outside their barns.
“The problem of deforestation is too widespread, but we are doing our best to manage and control it,” explained Esther.
The Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board Public Affairs Officer, Chelesani, said the Board has several ongoing afforestation programs targeting both smallholders and large-scale growers to curb deforestation.
“We also have Statutory Instruments 116 of 2022, which states that for every hectare of tobacco grown, 0.3 should be put under fast-growing tree species for the purposes of tobacco curing, and law enforcement makes it compulsory for all tobacco growers to establish woodlots,” explained Tsarwe.
Tsarwe explained the termination of contracts for farmers without woodlots, saying that they are just raising awareness and educating growers about sustainable tobacco production, which involves afforestation and reforestation.
In some cases, regarding the Tobacco Wood Energy Programs (TWEP), the A1 and A2 farmers were complaining that the arable land for TWEP was limited.
“In as much as the Board acknowledges land utilization conflicts, we recommend growers utilize the land they have wisely by maximizing productivity and quality rather than increasing the area under tobacco.
“In other areas, we are encouraging the establishment of communal plantations and centralized tobacco curing facilities like the ones we have at Stow-Muhacha,” said Tsarwe.
The Stow-Muhacha projects are transforming small-scale tobacco growers into viable and formal medium-scale enterprises.
Over the year, farmers were reluctant about deforestation, and more and more trees were cut down during the curing season, overlooking the effects. As the forestry commission is still trying to minimize the threats, the harm has already been done over the course of time, and it should implement tree plantations and advanced curing methods, which are cheaper.
Global warming effects include draught, loss of species, healthy risk, poverty, displacement, and hot temperatures; all this will also affect farmers directly.
One Diva Gurukota, a meteorologist, said the rate of deforestation between the tobacco curing season and the next has been overwhelming, and this has brought about effects like cyclones and weather shifts, as evidenced by a shift in our farming season like El Nino, which affected Zimbabwe in the past few years.