HARARE - Zimbabwe tobacco farmers will this year be required to pay 1,5 percent tax earmarked for tree replanting across the country, the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) has said.
Andrew Matibiri, the TIMB chief executive told the Daily News last week that a total levy of three percent would be imposed on both tobacco farmers and buyers to help with government’s effort to halt deforestation.
“Yes, deforestation is an issue but it’s also being driven by other factors like household use due to power challenges. Be that as it may, we are acting on that. Starting this season, farmers will be levied 1,5 percent of their earnings to be solely used for reforestation,” he said.
“Buyers will also be levied the same amount on their crop,” added Matibiri.
The massive increase in tobacco farmers in the past six years has seen the country suffering one of the worst deforestation periods in its history as farmers continuously cut down trees for tobacco curing.
However, stakeholders in the tobacco industry have been denying the charges saying deforestation has always been an endemic problem in Zimbabwe, since a larger proportion of its population is rural and dependent on firewood as a sole source of household energy.
Statistics from the United Nations Development Programme show that deforestation was a major problem facing Zimbabwe as early as 1997, where between 70 000 to 100 000 hectares of forest cover was declining at a rate of 1,5 percent per year.
As a result, from 1990 to 2005, Zimbabwe endured a decline of about 21 percent in its forest cover, which amounts to approximately 312 900 hectares.
Industry experts also contend that back-to-back power outages countrywide have made people to resort to the use of firewood as an easy alternative source of energy.
This has in turn created a market for firewood — particularly in urban areas. This high demand for firewood has driven the rate and scale of deforestation in the countryside, including in resettlement areas which were inaccessible to the majority before the wave of land reform beginning in 2000.
However, in an effort to minimise the impact of deforestation, the TIMB is engaging various stakeholders in the country to help plant trees.
Matibiri said tobacco buyers were also going to fund the reforestation of 23 000 hectares of wood logs while TIMB will distribute 300 000 of tree seedlings to farmers.
On its part, the Tobacco Research Board is expected to give away five million seedlings of gum trees.
“The use of energy efficient barns is also key, that’s why we are encouraging the use of rocket barns,” he said, adding that TIMB will establish a revolving fund to build rocket barns “for farmers and they would be allowed to pay back over two years”.