Deforestation crisis

Tobacco farmers should lead reforestation programmes

NewsDay - By Peter Makwanya

23 October 2017

Tobacco is one of the leading cash crops and a major foreign currency earner in Zimbabwe. The country does not only enjoy enormous returns from tobacco sales, but it also boasts the best quality tobacco, that is, from those who enjoy its smoke.

While the tobacco farmers and Zimbabwean authorities bask in this glory, the country is fast losing its precious forests due to the uncontrolled harvesting of indigenous and exotic trees for curing purposes.

In this regard, tobacco farmers cannot also invest in coal for curing their tobacco stocks, as it is a fossil fuel which emits greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Coal might be cheaper and readily available in this country in bulk stocks, but it remains dangerous, not only to the people’s health but to the environment as well.

The continuous use of trees without reforestation will lead to unlocking of large quantities of carbon into the atmosphere, reduction in forest cover and land degradation. Therefore, the tobacco farming sector, the government and the banks that offer tobacco farming loans should seriously consider large-scale reforestation programmes in order to replace those consumed by tobacco curing.

The irony is that, every year in December, the Zimbabweans always gather to at least plant a tree. This enthusiasm does not normally translate to sustainable action. The planted tree is normally left to wilt and die until the other one replaces it when the next tree planting day comes.

Many tobacco farmers throughout the country are aware of the essence of forest restoration, but they lack the will to do so. Nothing can stop them, even at a small or community-scale to engage in forest farming as that will not only help them in curing their tobacco, but can derive commercial benefits from forest farming.

Some tobacco farmers are of the opinion that coal may be used as the best alternative to destruction of forests, but coal may not provide desirable solutions.

While the rest of the world is seriously campaigning for the keeping of fossil fuels under the ground, we cannot be seen, in Zimbabwe, celebrating the use of a substance that the whole world wants to remove from the face of the earth.

The majority of tobacco farmers in this country are not in the habit of restoring lost forest cover. They always assume that the forests will regenerate automatically or from the will of god. This is largely due to the dearth of conscience, self-introspection and the inability to care anymore.

Turning to an equally dangerous source of energy — coal — exposes the tobacco farming community more. This would meet the description by the Nigerian novelist, Gabriel Okara about, “people without a head and a heart”. As such, a sustainable culture of forest regeneration should be inculcated in every Zimbabwean, not for tobacco curing purposes, but forest cover for the ecological balance.

Many communities in this country are always idle and have no income generating projects to talk about. If they can be cultured into this sustainable way of living, they can grow trees for tobacco curing and sell them to the tobacco farmers so that they can earn a living and overcome poverty. Forest restoration is a long process and our tobacco farmers don’t want to hear this, they always want things that come cheap and easy.

If reforestation programmes can be done in phases, this would obviously help the environment to remain dressed. People will also harvest these trees on a regular basis, as such, the forest-cover gaps would be sustainably managed.

Tobacco farmers and the general public need constant reminding, awareness, education, and training in forest farming and management so that they continue to realise sustainable livelihoods and a safe haven for habitation.

People always mourn about the effects of endless poverty yet their destiny is their hands. Nurturing woodlots will not only improve the people’s welfare but their health as well.

Continuing to milk the country of its precious trees without replacing them is a great let down and diversion to the spirit of dominion, Ubuntu and environmental stewardship.

The Forestry Commission can assist tobacco farmers and the public by providing them with tree types that they can grow or those that normally grow fast and can be harvested early so that they realise continuous supplies. People also need guidance on where trees such as the eucalyptus may be grown, wet places in particular as the eucalyptus seriously affect water tables. Indigenous trees that grow faster need to be integrated into these reforestation discourses.

The transporting of coal from Hwange to tobacco farming regions, mainly in Mashonaland provinces, is not a cost-cutting measure too. The process is not environmentally friendly since

diesel-powered haulages emit carbon into the atmosphere. Coal and diesel, which are products of fossil fuels, are unfavourable to the environment.

Although the majority of Zimbabweans are not well to do, they can overcome poverty or manage it, sustainably through seriously engagements in forest farming to avoid forest-poverty. The forest policing structures and statutory instruments need to be revisited so that forest fellers would be punished without considering their social status.

Solar curing, in terms of the dictates of renewable energy initiatives can be a sustainable solution.

Responsible authorities are moving at a snail’s pace in making the majority members of this country solar compliant. Cost of solar products is unsustainably high and out of reach of the general public. The government should lead the way in making these products affordable.

Forest-poverty has clouded the thinking of the majority of tobacco farmers hence they need to be re-oriented towards sustainable living habits.

If the government and major tobacco farmers realise lots of revenue from tobacco sales then they should lead the way in mapping out clean and sustainable tobacco growing initiatives that empower people without harming the environment.

https://www.newsday.co.zw/2017/10/tobacco-farmers-lead-reforestation-programmes