Zim tobacco ‘boom’ marred by environmental warnings

via Zim tobacco ‘boom’ marred by environmental warnings | SW Radio Africa by Alex Bell on Monday, November 11, 2013 

Deforestation, threats to water supply and an ongoing failure to produce critically needed food are just some warnings marring Zimbabwe’s tobacco ‘boom’.

The much publicised ‘success’ of the tobacco sector has been lauded by ZANU PF, which led the land grab campaign that saw top party officials and loyalists seize commercial farms.

Under the guise of ‘reform’, the campaign resulted in the destruction of the agricultural sector and in turn helped shatter the failing economy. There has also never been a return to the level of local food production seen prior to the launch of the land grabs, leaving Zimbabwe dependent on food imports and an estimated two million Zimbabweans reliant on food aid.

But in recent years a growing number of smallhold tobacco farmers has seen the output of this sector begin to surge.

Commercial Farmers Union president Charles Taffs said what is being witnessed in the tobacco sector is far from a ‘boom’, but rather a “partial tobacco recovery.” He told SW Radio Africa that Zimbabwe is “way, way short of where we were 14 years ago,” in terms of tobacco production. He also warned that the tobacco success has come at a serious expense, saying that the path Zimbabwe was currently on was “unsustainable.”

“We’ve come from a hugely diverse agricultural base, to a single crop base. And we are relying on one commodity and as a country we cannot afford to do this,” Taffs said

Deforestation, in particular, has been the main impact of Zimbabwe’s tobacco surge, with warnings that if the current trend continues, by 2016 the major tobacco areas will have no trees. Timber is used in the curing of tobacco, with small scale farmers (said to make up about 83% of Zimbabwe’s tobacco farmers) not having access to coal, the more expensive, alternative fuel for tobacco curing.

“We’re losing vast amounts of indigenous timber to cure this tobacco. What happened is that we were moving away from timber towards coal with electrification. But with the expansion of the small scale sector, most of the farmers don’t have access to power,” Taffs explained.

He said that the knock on affects of this were widespread, with deforestation leading to major siltation of the rivers and long term damage of soil. He warned that, if allowed to carry on unchecked, the deforestation as a result of tobacco farming would be “catastrophic.”

“So we are seeing the growth of the small scale tobacco industry at the expense of timber. And in three or four years time we will have no timber and no tobacco,” Taffs said.



  • comment-avatar
    Mike Patterson 10 years ago

    Prior to so called Independence the country’s commercial farming area was recognised as an example of conservation ethics. Now since the demise of CONEX, the ICA system and the sensible crop rotational system the country has become a conservation disaster.
    The present government if one can called it that, owes the Zimbabwean children a more responsible attitude to agriculture so that they can enjoy and nurture a once great country.
    I am aware that it is a pipe dream but had to say it.
    It is a pity that such a bunch of idiots have control over the future of innocent children.

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    Shebah 10 years ago

    Mike Pattern – Before electrification how many tons of timber did you destroy to cure tobacco.
    Yes the problem is acknowledged and something is being done about it. This year all contract growers are receiving coal as part of their funding package. Coal is now also available on strategic sites, education in usage is also required. The bans we are using are also not suitable for coal use. So the farmer need someone to come with a workable solution but the farmer still need to grow tobacco. It boils down to financing of farming capitalisation

    • comment-avatar
      William Doctor 10 years ago

      @ Shebah

      And who’s going to provide the required capital comrade? I note the Chinese are quiet. And the West think that you’re a bunch of morons.

    • comment-avatar
      Angel 10 years ago

      Millions in this once-thriving land now live under miserable conditions: constant food shortages—runaway inflation—AIDS—political persecution—corruption across all levels—a perfect storm of national suffering and despair. Life expectancy among males has decreased from 60 years of age in 1990 to 37 today, with the life expectancy of females now at 34! This is one of the worst rates in the world—it means Zimbabweans live less than half the lifetime of most Westerners! One must wonder about those who are too poor to leave the country. Where can they go to find enough food for their families? What can they do to survive?

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    Sheba say what you will but very few small scale growers will use coal. Zimbabwe is an Enviromental disaster! Not only is the country been denuded of hundreds of thousands of hectares of woodlands, but the rivers are been polluted by the Chinese that you embrace so gladly in order to keep your tyrants in power. They will certainly be behind the poisoning in Hwankie. They are even eating all your tortoises. You do not give a damn for what you will leave your children but it will be servitude under the new colonizers.

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    BossMyass 10 years ago

    Honest, independent people maybe rare, but they are not totally absent. Still, Zimbabaweans must not continue to live isolated individualistic lives. Though they have been divided for a long time, they need to come together and with one voice, demand their freedom. Freedom is the only hope for the future. We cannot remain any longer under Zanu Pf bondage.

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    Shebah 10 years ago

    Mike, I am talking from first hand facts. All under contract farming got coal and they are the majority but obviously the coal is not enough.

  • comment-avatar

    Ok, but it seems like a little to late to make a difference. Tobacco farmers will have to keep finding new areas of forest to get wood from. The downward spiral of self destruction continues.

  • comment-avatar
    Mike Patterson 10 years ago

    I was asked by Shebah how many tons of timber I destroyed prior to electrification and the answer NONE. It was my policy to plant 1 hectare of timer each year on parts of my farm that were less productive and I am certain that a large number of my fellow farmers did the same.
    I only used electricity and coal to cure my tobacco.
    How many of your contracted farmers plant trees? You have a national obligation to encourage this practice.