Pine trees to ease tobacco-curing burden

MUTARE - Use of fast-growing exotic trees has lifted the burden off indigenous trees in tobacco curing which is responsible for 20 percent of over 350 000 hectare annual vegetation loss that has been increasingly threatening the nation’s biodiversity.

Pine trees, abundant in Manicaland, are expected to ease burden on the slow-regenerating Miombo Forests — to the relief of environmentalists.

The softwood is fast burning and can dry the golden leaf in two to three days faster than indigenous hardwood, making their continued use logical.

Makoni Rural District Council CEO Edward Pise said the use of pine in his district, being sourced from the province’s commercial forests by tobacco companies, was giving hope to the sustainable farming of the cash crop.

“Pine is fast burning and can dry your tobacco in far much less time meaning you will overly require less fuel overall,” Pise said.

Tobacco farming has for years been considered one of the greatest threats to both the country’s indigenous forests and biodiversity according to Environment Africa’s former Zimbabwe country director Banarbas Mawire.

“The rate of indigenous forest regeneration is very low and their use in tobacco curing is coming at a huge cost to the country’s biodiversity,” Mawire says.

In an earlier interview, Mawire once said “As far as I’m concerned, the value of farming tobacco is being underestimated as they are not looking at its cost to the nation.”

He added that “for tobacco to be grown sustainably, we need to revisit its energy sources . . . I don’t think it’s being produced sustainably”.

Forestry Commission, in its reports, states that although the country plants over 10 million trees annually, veld fires are also devastating the forests.

It says unless this is checked, the country will suffer timber deficits in 20 years.

But it is tobacco farming that has been the major cause of ecological damage in the main golden leaf-growing regions.

The Zimbabwe National Statistics Office’s 2010 statement even predicts that “if we don’t do something about the environment, this country will be a desert in 52 years”.

Worryingly, however, the commercial forestry in the eastern highlands — which could support tobacco farming — is itself in the doldrums.

According to Timber Producers Federation, in the 1990s, commercial forestry was contributing three percent to the Gross National Product (GNP).

However, following invasions of commercial forest areas, the sector has lost much of its value to the country’s economic development. Over 7 000 of the almost 83 hectares of planted commercial forests are under illegal occupation by over 190 families.

There are fears that beyond failing to even provide timber for fuel in tobacco curing, the country will even end up importing timber and timber products from South Africa, Malawi and Mozambique.

Zimbabwe’s total timber plantations measure only 85 000 hectares and supporting it now would also help cure deforestation challenges across the province with the agricultural sector proffering solutions to its own problems.

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