indigenous resources

Zimbabwe: Tobacco farming is ‘fueling deforestation’

By Farai Shawn Matiashe

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Posted on June 20, 2022 15:15

A woman harvests tobacco at a farm outside Harare
A woman harvests tobacco at a farm outside Harare, Zimbabwe, February 20, 2019. Picture taken February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Zimbabwe, the largest producer of tobacco in Africa and sixth globally, is looking to turn tobacco farming into a $5bn industry by 2025. It is one of the biggest foreign currency earners for the Southern African nation, along with gold and remittances.

Last year alone, tobacco earned $1.2bn, but statistics show that tobacco farmers are responsible for ravaging 60,000 hectares of forests each year, around 20% of the country’s total forest loss of 262,000 hectares per annum. Can a sustainable solution be found before the industry reaches its new goal?

Zimbabwe’s tobacco industry is dominated by smallholder farmers who contribute to more than 50% of the country’s yearly produce.

In 2021, about 106,000 smallholder tobacco farmers in Zimbabwe produced 133,000 metric tons out of total production of 211,000 metric tons, according to Zimbabwe’s Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB).

Most of these smallholder farmers use firewood to burn their tobacco in homemade barns in a process known as curing – the removal of moisture from tobacco leaves using controlled temperatures for several weeks.

For every kilogram of tobacco, about ten kilograms

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