By Brighton Muronzereyi

THE Forestry Commission will distribute 20 million tree seedlings to tobacco farmers as part of its fight against deforestation.

This comes as the deforestation rate is currently at about 260 000 hectares per annum, of which 30 percent of it is caused by tobacco curing.

Speaking to the Daily News yesterday, Forestry Commission director Abedinigo Marufu said tobacco curing using firewood contributed immensely to deforestation.

“More than 60 percent of tobacco farmers use firewood for curing their tobacco. This is one of the major contributors to deforestation and we are working with the tobacco farmers in serious reforestation programmes. We have nurseries that supply over 20 million seedlings, which includes eucalyptus or gum tree, different varieties of fruit trees and indigenous trees annually. A tobacco farmer is expected to plant at least 500 trees per every hectare of tobacco which they grow every year and it is an offence for tobacco farmers not to comply with this requirement,” Marufu said.

“We also have a robust forest extension service that educates farmers and schools on how to grow and care for trees up to harvesting.  Every district has a forest officer supported by a team of forest promoters who are based in each ward.”

He added that they were conducting law enforcement blitzes across the country to curb illegal trade in all forms of forest produce.

“Now that we are in winter, a lot of illegal tree cutting is happening for firewood and charcoal production. We are also stepping up our monitoring operations in all the hotspots of the country assisted by Zimbabwe Republic Police, Environmental Management Authority, rural district councils and our traditional leaders.

Recently, the government agreed to charge every tobacco farmer about a 0.75 percent levy on every kilogramme of tobacco delivered to the auction floors which is meant for reforestation programmes.

“This support has been coming to the Forestry Commission, but in trickles and we urge the treasury to release all the money raised through this afforestation levy timeously. The release of this money has not been consistent, tobacco farmers and their associations have been crying foul and our programmes are currently not running smoothly as this support is no longer enough.  

“We appeal to the private sector, church organisations and other non-state actors to come on board in forest financing to complement government support,” Marufu said.