‘Golden leaf farmers are enemies from within’ says chief

By Nhau Mangirazi  

Hurungwe Chief Mjinga Mutenhe Madadairwa aged (75) is bitter that tobacco farmers are doing lot of injustice to the environment and are therefore enemies from within communities.

He is aggrieved that communal farmers under his jurisdiction in Hurungwe East joined tobacco farming and are destroying forests.

One of the affected areas is within Tengwe, formerly a prime farming area that produces cash crops including tobacco, soya beans, maize and wheat in Hurungwe district within Mashonaland West.

He added, ‘‘Tobacco has brought a lot of devastation around our communities. We have witnessed unwarranted natural destruction of nature around,’’

Besides earning the country foreign currency of over one billion US dollars, Zimbabwe’s golden leaf farming has forced the country to witness deforestation where resettled farmers on large tracks of land have left it bare facing desertification.

This has also fueled negative impact due to climate change.

Nostalgically, Chief Mjinga recalled that Tengwe nicknamed ‘Little England of Hurungwe’ was a marvel to watch with enticing green natural vegetation but all that has been left to ashes and soon be a desert.

He added, ‘‘The abuse of forests is a sorry state as communities have failed to maintain these forests where trees are being cut by tobacco farmers for curing. Tobacco companies that contract farmers must be part of long term rehabilitation of our forests,’’

Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world in commemorating World   Forests Day on 21 March and Chief Mjinga’s anger is justified.

This year’s theme of the International Day of Forests is “Forest restoration: a path to recovery and well-being.”

Women in Agriculture Union founding director and chairperson Olga Nhari said they encourage farmers to plant trees.

She said, ‘‘Deforestation is a real threat to our climate and directly affects us in agriculture. We urge farmers to plant 10 trees for every one tree cut down especially indigenous trees. Planting of trees must be done by all farmers. We implore that the Forestry Commission must partner with women farmers and help us with grafted indigenous trees to plant nationwide,’’

Forestry Commission Mashonaland West acting provincial officer Pardon Mukudo admitted that tobacco farming has transformed livelihoods of many communities.

He said, ‘‘Hurungwe district is greatest producer of tobacco  but is facing challenges of forest abuse. It has left a trail of destruction that will leave nothing for future generations. This will have an impact on forests that play an important role in managing climate change. Tobacco production contributes to at least 15 percent of deforestation.’’

He revealed that they have confiscated firewood and arrested some unruly farmers cutting down trees as this has been an uphill task.

Mukudo said, ‘‘This is a battle that we are fighting and failing as tobacco farmers are in complicity,’’

Anna Brazier, a sustainable development consultant suggested that the government must urgently shift policy away from promoting tobacco farming.

She explained that land degradation (due to poor land management practices, lack of natural resource protection, governance and climate change) is going to dramatically increase food insecurity in Zimbabwe.

Brazier added, ‘‘We need to shift our economy away from cash cropping and focus all resources on food cropping. If cash crops must be grown then we need to choose crops that are not input intensive. Tobacco and cotton are both disastrous for our environment and impoverish farmers because they are input intensive and have extremely risky markets,’’

But Believe Tevera president of Tobacco Farmers Union of Zimbabwe differed saying the promotion of afforestation is through making use of the tobacco levy as ‘remedy for the negative effects’ of tobacco farming that has resulted to environmental degradation qualitatively and quantitatively.

He added, ‘‘Environmental awareness is crucial at the moment, teaching farmers on the importance of preserving our forests. As we speak most farmers are resorting to the use of coal in tobacco curing. Contracting companies should,as a way of giving back to the community should role out afforestation programs in communities, donating seedlings and establishing small community plantations as a remedy to the environment,’’

Brazier urged that destroying forests for any reason whether tobacco-curing or sale of fuel wood or clearance of land for agriculture means destroying the very element (trees) which protect soil, encourage rainwater to infiltrate to replenish boreholes and wells and ameliorate local climate benefiting crop and livestock production.

She said, ‘‘Communities can use forests sustainably and harvest wood without killing trees but this must be restricted to necessary needs such as fuel wood and timber for construction of buildings. Farmers must be encouraged to switch to different crops as soon as possible. Veld fires and deforestation need to be addressed by the formation of strong natural resource protection committees in every community with representatives from traditional leadership, women, youths and government departments,’’

Mukudu said the commission is winding up tree planting at provincial level.

‘‘We raised approximately 1.2million which were given and planted by tobacco farmers in four main tobacco growing districts Chegutu, Hurungwe, Makonde, Zvimba,’’ said Mukudo.

Tevera concluded that the afforestation levy is deducted from every sale, there must be transparency is crucial.

He said, ‘‘The commission should be accountable, as farmers we play our part we pay the afforestation levy but it is also important for us to know how the money is being used, because forests in our communities are shrinking, yet no remedy is being initiated.

On each International Day of Forests, countries are encouraged to undertake local, national and international efforts to organize activities involving forests and trees, such as tree planting campaigns. The theme for each International Day of Forests is chosen by the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF).

‘‘Stakeholders including Agriculture Extension, Forestry Commission, District Development Coordinator, Zimbabwe National Water Authority and Environment Management Agency need to work together to encourage farmers and communities to intensify agriculture and not clear more land. Agroforestry (planting useful trees in between crops) must become a nationwide practice. These departments can help communities to designate protected areas in their communities particularly watersheds (including stream banks and wetlands) and forests. By doing this the community will realize improved water resources, improved soil and improved agricultural production which in turn will make them less vulnerable to the inevitable impacts of climate change which will include temperature rises, rainfall decline, heat-waves, droughts and violent storms.’’ said Braizer.

About 70% of Zimbabweans live in rural areas and depend on natural resources (soil, water, plants and animals) for their livelihoods.