Over the last four years, tobacco production has gone up mainly from smallholder farmers who benefited from the fast-track land reform programme.
Viewpoint by Wisdom Mdzungairi
But one can easily learn pretty quickly that tobacco production in the country is biased by all sorts of deep unconscious processes.
When a country becomes a mass producer of tobacco its liking for food crops drops; putting off its conscience to protect the environment. This increased production has been happening against the backdrop of massive deforestation in the countryside.
Is the country prepared to face the inherent environmental challenges of embracing the mainstreaming of previously disadvantaged people into the tobacco sector?
The firming of international tobacco prices in particular buoyed the sector attracting new farmers to take risks and venture into the smallholder tobacco farming sector, even without adequate knowledge, skills and other necessary resources.
As a result deforestation has had a massive environmental impact on Zimbabwe -home to some of the most biologically diverse forests in the world. As late as 2000, Zimbabwe was still a densely forested country. But deforestation has intensified and continuously accelerated since then as tobacco farmers sought to cure their crop with firewood.
It appears the Environment, Water and Climate ministry is constrained as large tracts of forests have continuously been lost as native forests are cleared.
Enforcing environmental laws have also proved to be the real test, and understandably so as this may have some negative implications on the land reform programme.
Veld fires have become a perennial problem and over the years they have caused damage to the environment destroying vegetation, property, animals and precious human lives. The survival of indigenous trees has also been threatened as they require an undisturbed natural ecosystem to grow effectively.
The transfer of nurseries to communities and schools resulted in the Forestry Commission losing control over quality and quantity of seedlings produced and this ultimately impacted negatively on afforestation efforts.
Of major concern is the shortage of seedlings for woodlots production for tobacco growers. If this problem is not addressed the tobacco growers will continue with the indiscriminate cutting down of trees.
Hence concerted efforts to curb deforestation need to be continuously improved so as to safe guard the country’s natural resources. The public needs to be made aware of the importance of keeping a well-balanced ecosystem.
Proper procedures must also be followed when harvesting trees and the public must develop a culture of growing trees and preserving the existing ones.
It is important, therefore, for Environment Management Agency to intensify anti fire campaigns towards and during the fire season and develop a data bank on the causes of fire and areas prone to veld fires in order to prioritise fire protection activities. Environment minister Saviour Kasukuwere should ensure government strengthen institutions responsible for fire management by outlining clear definition of responsibilities of each institution.
These agencies should resuscitate nurseries so that they can control quality and quantity of seedlings produced and trees planted.
In addition, the Environment ministry should develop appropriate technologies for the improved and sustainable management of indigenous and exotic plantation forest and to produce superior seed and other plant materials.
Communities should also be encouraged to grow indigenous trees as they face extinction. Yet, deterrent measures should be put in place to force people to desist from illegally cutting down of trees. This may mean that law enforcement agents should prioritise environmental laws by apprehending the offenders.
Hard as it is for government to tell tobacco farmers to stop cutting trees today because if the harvest drops it would mean failure on a program they initiated, it is incumbent on the authorities to protect the country by promoting sustainable development.
While, Kasukuwere appeared energetic when he was appointed to the ministry, it appears he has fizzled out –all the bountiful energy supped at a crucial moment.
Perhaps Kasukuwere needs a reminder that the current environmental degrading activities in the countryside will affect not just Zimbabwe but the whole world in far reaching ways.
Deforestation is a major contributor to global warming and the government cannot put a blind eye to that. Yes — a person of deep character has certain qualities: in the realm of intellect, has permanent convictions about fundamental things; in the realm of emotions, has a web of unconditional loves; in the realm of action, has permanent commitments to transcendent projects that cannot be completed in a single lifetime.
True, Kasukuwere, our origins are natural; our depths are man-made, engraved by thought and action. Often this depth is built by fighting against natural predispositions.
So much of our own understanding of our depth occurs later in life, also amid suffering –the farmers, everybody included.
Yes, people have land, empowered as they are, they are making money today, but future generations will suffer because world temperatures are rising to alarming levels and already there are reports of melting glaciers in Africa i.e example Rwenzori Mountain in Uganda, sinking islands and of course endangered animal species such as Tiger, rhino, African Painted dog (in Hwange) and many others because of changes in the ecosystems.
Cde Minister, babies are not deep. But old people can be, depending upon how they have chosen to lead their lives. Babies start out very natural. The people we admire are rooted in nature but have surpassed nature. Often they grew up in cultures that encouraged them to take a loftier view of their possibilities than we do today.
Zimbabwe cannot be said to be a baby 34 years after attaining Independence. Hence, nobody wants their children to see animals we are seeing today on television, textbooks or magazines like what we do with dinosaurs or bears. Now is the opportunity for true leaders to shine. Cde Kasukuwere, Please recharge to drive government policy and walk the talk on the environment.