Tobacco Deforestation in Zimbabwe

by Abbyssinia Mushunje, South Africa, ELP 2014

 
Zimbabwe is the leading producer of tobacco, mainly Virginia, in Africa and fourth in the world. For curing the flue-cured tobacco, farmers use either coal or firewood, mainly from the Miombo Forests. Geist (1999), in an article published in the Tobacco Control Journal, classified Zimbabwe as one of the countries that had a serious impact on the usage of wood in tobacco production upon forest resources in the developing world. In Zimbabwe the main culprits of this deforestation are the resource-poor smallholder farmers, whose livelihoods mainly depend on the natural resources in their surrounding environments.

Geist’s (1999) article was published when the country, according to FAO (2006), had less than 5,000 flue-cured communal and resettled farmers. The number of growers has since risen to close to 91,000 in 2013 and to over 127,000 in 2014. Over 80% of these are communal and resettled farmers. Anyone who travelled the width and breath of Zimbabwe this 2014 agricultural season witnessed the phenomenal adoption of the golden leaf crop by smallholder farmers. It is an open secret that these farmers depend heavily on the Miombo Woodlands for energy to flue-cure the tobacco. This has raised uproar with environmentalists who want something to be done to curb the unprecedented destruction of the indigenous forests in Zimbabwe.

On July 12th, 2014, allAfrica.com carried an article titled “Tobacco Farmers Reject Deforestation Charge.” The Zimbabwe Farmers' Union that represents smallholder and resettled farmers in Zimbabwe are denying that they are causing deforestation in their surrounding areas. They claim to have started the Southern Africa Deforestation Initiative where each farmer is made to grow fast growing trees, like the eucalyptus, at the maximum rate of 100 trees per hectare every year. The farmers’ union goes on to accuse the environmentalists of destroying the forests in the past.

To me this is a very sad scenario where organizations exchange accusations while the forests are being depleted. Across the country there is no evidence of any significant reforestation but massive deforestation. We all know the impact of losing our precious trees and forests. It is high time that all stakeholders such as the government, Environmental Management Agency, Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union, political and traditional leaders, etc. come together and accept the environmental catastrophe that the country is facing. Together a lasting solution can be found before it is too late.