FARMERS have made fresh calls for the scrapping of the tobacco levy going into the next season, as $23 million collected under the fund since 2015 has not been disbursed to serve its purpose.
BY FIDELITY MHLANGA
In January 2015, government introduced an afforestation levy on all tobacco farmers at a rate of 1,5% in the first year and 0,75% in subsequent years to finance regreening initiatives in the country.
The afforestation fund comes from a 0,75% tax on gross sales levied on the country’s 80 000-plus tobacco farmers who rely on wood to cure their crop.
Upon delivering their tobacco crop, the country’s 80 000-plus tobacco farmers are automatically levied based on gross sales.
The Forestry Commission, which was charged with administering the fund, last year told a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment, Water, Tourism and Hospitality Industry that Treasury had, instead, transferred administration of the fund to the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB).
Zimbabwe Tobacco Association chief executive Rodney Ambrose said the failure to allocate the afforestation levy was to blame for excessive deforestation levels obtaining in the country.
“Afforestation levy needs to be removed. With close to $23 million collected to date and no afforestation programmes to speak of, this levy needs to be urgently removed. Parliamentary processes to allow for the funds collected to date to be utilised also need to be expedited. High levels of deforestation continue, in line with the rapid growth in production and increased number of smallholder farmers participating who use wood for curing. Coal is not a long term, sustainable energy source for tobacco curing,” he said.
Ambrose said the World Health Organisation FCTC COP8 which ended in Geneva on October 6, 2018 proposed measures to minimise government links with the industry and called for industry liability for “damage” to the environment and sustainable development.
Federation of Farmers’ Union president Wonder Chabikwa said the delay in disbursing afforestation levy was worrisome.
“The delay in disbursing it will worsen deforestation as time is running out to grow trees for tobacco curing,” he said.