Elita Chikwati Senior Reporter
About $21,5 million collected under the Tobacco Levy since 2015 has not been disbursed as the tobacco industry battles to meet the 2020 Global Tobacco Cigarette Companies Guidelines on producing the crop in a sustainable way.
The Global Tobacco Cigarette Companies Guidelines state that as from 2020, international buyers will no longer be accepting tobacco that has not been produced in a sustainable manner, including that which is cured using coal.
Government introduced the levy, meant for afforestation, in January 2015 and it was levied on all tobacco farmers at a rate of 1,5 percent in the first year and 0,75 percent in subsequent years and to date $21,5 million has been raised.
The fund was meant to ensure farmers adopt afforestation programmes and remain competitive and relevant to the global cigarette industry.
Tobacco producers, mostly smallholder farmers who rely on firewood to cure their crop complained that they should have benefited from the fund and established woodlots but are not clear of how to access the money or how it was managed.
Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board chairperson Mrs Monica Chinamasa blamed the delays in the distribution of the fund to administrative bottlenecks.
“Farmers are fighting to meet the global market requirements but bureaucratic bottlenecks have come into play. We were told the funds must have a constitution that is passed by Parliament and it dragged on and on.
“Before the new Cabinet, three ministers responsible for Lands, Environment and Agriculture met and agreed that all the money should move to the Ministry of Agriculture then TIMB would access that money for farmers to grow trees as they know the growers.
“It is critical that our farmers grow trees or else the global market will not buy our tobacco,” she said.
Government has authorised the Forestry Commission to handle 50 percent of the levy for afforestation.
Forestry Commission information and communications manager Ms Violet Makoto said the parastatal was allocated 50 percent of the levy to fund production of seedlings and effectively undertake forestry extension services in the tobacco growing regions.
“The Forestry Commission has targeted to raise 25 million gum tree seedlings and 5 million assorted tree seedlings of fast growing tree species that can provide fuelwood.
“For an effective implementation of the programme Forestry Commission requires a total funding outlay of $5 913 270 of which about $3 345 333 is needed in the first quarter of the year.
“Any delay in availing these funds means that tree planting targets for the season will be missed,” she said.
The 30 million trees to be raised will comprise 25 million gum tree seedlings, 3 000 000 Kenyan crotons and 2 000 000 other relatively fast growing naturalised exotic and indigenous tree varieties which are suitable for providing wood energy.
The Forestry Commission also targets to revive 13 tree nurseries and has identified 52 potential tree nursery sites for development within the four tobacco growing provinces — Manicaland and the three Mashonaland provinces.
“These nurseries will be sited within reach of the targeted farmers. A total of $1 699 400 is budgeted for reviving existing nurseries and establishing new nurseries strategically located in the tobacco-growing areas while $675 664 is budgeted for procurement of nursery materials,” she said.
Efforts to get comments from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement were futile.