By Lungelo Ndhlovu
TOBACCO farmers across Zimbabwe should resort to solar energy systems to smoke their plants and stop cutting trees, as that has contributed to alarming levels of deforestation, a government official has said.
According to the Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe (FCZ), 330,000 hectares of forests are lost annually due to human activities such as land clearing for agricultural expansion, resettlements, infrastructure development, including demand for firewood and tobacco curing in Zimbabwe.
Speaking on the side-lines of an Awareness Seminar on Climate Change and Ozone for media practitioners, in Bulawayo recently, a scientist in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement department, Lawrence Mushungu said deforestation remains a major concern in the country.
He said people relied more on trees and did not use other alternatives like solar, which were less harmful to the environment.
“Tobacco drying, where farmers use wood to dry the tobacco plant is one of the key drivers of deforestation in Zimbabwe,” said Mushungu.
To mitigate against that, the scientist said the department of Climate with the help and support of the FCZ, conducted a study on drivers of deforestation and solutions to address that.
“Tobacco curing has become one of the key issues that we noted. Together with the Forest Commission and the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB), we must make sure that we enforce environmental laws which will see every tobacco farmer planting trees from their respective lands,” Mashungu said.
In Zimbabwe, the bulk of rural communities and poor urban still acquire their energy supplies from the forest – by chopping wood, leading to massive deforestation and land degradation, as they do not replace the trees.
The FCZ also noted that demand for wood has contributed 15 percent of the aggregate deforestation rate in Zimbabwe.
Due to such statistics, these environmental groups have embarked on studies on the use and impact of other alternative renewable sources, within reach that locals and farmers can adopt in their daily activities.
“At the same time, we are embarking on pilot surveys and some studies on how farmers can use solar energy for drying because deforestation is a very serious issue, which scientifically (and) socially, affects lives and also affects the environment people rely on for survival,” said Mashungu.