The dream of surpassing the 200 million kilogrammes of flue-cured tobacco for the second time in a row is still very much alive as our farmers, mainly beneficiaries of the land reform, continue to deliver their crop to the market.Last year, the farmers hit the mark and collectively generated close to a $1 billion in hard currency. The monetary authorities paid tribute to our tobacco farmers, saying the amount of money earned through tobacco exports was enough to import fuel to run the national economy for 12 months.
That is a mark of the success story of the country’s land reform programme which has been maligned by detractors since its launch at the turn of the millennium.
But as the country celebrates this remarkable achievement by our tobacco farmers, there is a greater need to strike a sustainable balance between the country’s economic interests and those of the environment.
A majority of the farmers who have taken up tobacco growing as a business, rely on firewood to cure the crop, but at a huge cost to the environment. They don’t have woodlots for this purpose. They are decimating indigenous trees at a time when the world is concerned about the environment and climate change and its impact on our future.
This is clearly not sustainable as it is very difficult to replace the precious indigenous trees which face the prospect of being wiped out if deliberate efforts are not taken to control their use.
As of yesterday, tobacco farmers had collectively earned $416 million from the sale of over 144 million kilogrammes of the crop so far out of the over 200 million kilogrammes expected.
Indeed, earnings from the crop indicate that some of the farmers can purchase state-of-the-art machinery and equipment, vehicles, household property, send their children to expensive schools among other achievements.
The crop has transformed lives of many villagers who would otherwise be wallowing in poverty. The high tobacco output means farmers are being productive on the land and that alone makes the land reform programme a success despite teething problems.
However, that success should not be enjoyed only by the current generation, but also others have a right to be bequeathed fertile land and a clean and life-sustaining environment.
That is why there is an urgent need for a policy intervention on the cutting of indigenous trees to cure tobacco. These take generations to replace to usable state.
It is against this backdrop that we call for sustainable ways of growing the lucrative crop without laying the environment to waste. Farmers must establish woodlots on their farms from which can be used as fuel for curing tobacco. Farmers must plant eucalyptus trees on their land so that they stop cutting down the remaining indigenous trees that take long to grow.
Alternatively, Zimbabwe has huge deposits of coal at Hwange and farmers can purchase this individually or as co-operatives for use to cure their crop. This should be a reasonable expenditure from their earnings instead of spending everything on immediate, short-term comforts.
It would also help to invest into research on the fuel efficiency of tobacco rocket barns that use less energy, but produce good results. This way Zimbabwe can save a lot of trees and reduce environmental pollution.
Also, instead of using electricity from Kariba and Hwange, farmers can pool resources and construct solar or wind power stations to power their tobacco barns. That is the cleanest method to earn money.
The point we are making is that as farmers conduct their business, they should not only think of maximising profits, but also think of preserving the environment for future generations.