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Following harvest, flue-cured tobacco undergoes an energy-intensive drying process (curing) in a specialised barn in which heated air extracts water from the tobacco leaves. These barns are usually fuelled by wood; the drying process lasts seven days. As such, tobacco curing entails excessive wood consumption.
The tobacco crop is important to Zimbabwe’s agriculture and the national economy as it is almost entirely exported. Without diversifying the structure of agriculture in Zimbabwe it will be impossible to reduce its dependency on tobacco revenue. Still, small-scale tobacco growers could shift from tobacco to other crops if an alternative crop that does not reduce their income is introduced.

Without woodlots or plantations, smallholder farmers need to look for alternative sources of energy other than indigenous trees. The cutting down of trees poses a disastrous threat to the environment, and could ultimately be the demise of the tobacco industry.
The International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) defines Specific Fuel Consumption (SFC) as expressed in kilograms of wood used per one kilogram of cured tobacco, in cubic metres per tonne of tobacco produced, and cubic metres per farm. When it comes to the firewood use of flue, the range of SFC is as low as 5 kg and as high as 130 kg. One hectare of smallholder farming produces about 1400 kg of tobacco and that requires seven tonnes of firewood cure.
Farmers cut down approximately 5.3 million trees each year as a part of tobacco production. To replace the resulting loss of natural forest, Zimbabwe farmers would need to plant 14 million trees every year.

According to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Management, 46 015 hectares of forests have been destroyed and 1,38 million cubic metres of firewood have been burned to cure part of the 127 million kilogrammes of tobacco delivered to the auction floors.

The ministry issued notices to all flue-cured tobacco growers across the country that no farmer will be allowed to grow tobacco in the 2010/2011 planting season without a woodlot or coal for the curing process; however, that issuance was neither followed, nor enforced.

In Southern Africa an estimated 140,000 hectares of woodlands (65,000 hectares in Zimbabwe alone) are cleared annually to cure tobacco, accounting for 12 percent of the deforestation in the region.

As a consequence of the entrance of inexperienced new tobacco farmers, tobacco production that uses an inefficient curing system, erratic electricity supply, and a shortage of coal, deforestation has increased as farmers have resorted to using woody biomass as fuel for curing.

A study by the Food and Agriculture Organisation in 2005 estimated the annual deforestation rate in Zimbabwe to be 312 900 ha, while the latest estimates indicate that deforestation has since escalated to 330 000 ha per year.

The average fuel consumption is two kilograms of coal for each kilogram of cured tobacco. Efficient curing management and improved barn structures in Zimbabwe will enable small-scale growers to improve this figure to 1.2kg of coal for each kilogram of cured leaf. A new concept of tobacco curing by means of recycling hot air is being tested. This has the advantage of being more energy efficient.

The Solution
Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe continue to grow tobacco because of the tremendous financial incentives from multinational corporations. With enticements such as farming supplies, or a guaranteed foreign exchange for their crops, farmers are reluctant to use their land for anything else.

Faced with dwindling sources of wood fuel, PAAP proposes to address the problem by assisting smallholder tobacco farmers to plant trees.

The average smallholder farmer will use approx 43 m3 of fuel wood (~ 15,000 kg)/yr to produce an average of 1400 kg of finished tobacco from a 1 hectare plot. This costs the farmer ~US$400/hectare (1/3 of his income) for firewood. 2/3 of that cost is for transport. Deforestation is being caused by increasing wood demands for household use and tobacco curing.

It is estimated that a barn with well-insulated walls, roof, and floor, can save 10-20% of fuel consumed per cure. Another practical energy-efficient curing measure is harvesting only ripe tobacco, which requires a shorter curing time and thus less heat loss.

Trees should be planted in the form of woodlots with homestead and garden boundaries, along stream/river banks and roadsides. A wide range of trees should be planted to include indigenous and exotic species and fruit trees.
• Planting local bamboo can reduce the use of wood for roofing materials, granaries, baskets, mats, fences and other uses.
• Introducing fuel efficient kitchen mud stoves can reduce use of fuel wood by up to 50%.
• Soil and water conservation measures must include contour ridging, vetiver hedgerows and rehabilitation of gullies.
• Soil fertility enrichment by interplanting soil will improve trees/shrubs such as Faidherbia albida and Tephrosia vogelii with crops.
• Introducing small-scale irrigation systems for producing vegetables, legumes and green maize will improve food security, nutrition, and incomes.
• Promoting safe water and eco-friendly pit latrines in villages will reduce risk of water-borne diseases. A secondary aim would be to reduce demands for wood used in constructing traditional latrines and to supply decomposed human waste to safely fertilise crops.

Reforestation programmes are undoubtedly the best solution to this predicament. Tree planting has always posed a challenge for rural communities given the high demand for land for growing food crops, wood for fuel, and timber for construction.
Without a coal supplier, the tobacco farmers have resorted to tree-felling to get fuel for tobacco curing. Such a rapid depletion of trees in an already semi-arid climate will lead to desertification.
The Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) forecasts that tobacco production could grow to 350 million kg annually in three to four years – provided there is adequate financial support – thanks to demands from the European Union and China, with each purchasing about 40 percent of the country’s tobacco crop.
For a country producing more than 50 million kg of tobacco, 350 000 tonnes of wood would be needed if every farmer used wood for curing every year. This translates to 16 500 hectares of plantation of forest.
Zimbabwe’s land reform programme marked the increase in the number of small-scale tobacco growers in the country. This has resulted in a massive shift in the tobacco-growing base, previously dominated by a few commercial white farmers who produced the bulk of the crop. If those new smallholder farmers do not begin to plant trees with a reforestation scheme, tobacco curing will no longer be feasible without a supply of wood for the flue. If the soil then becomes depleted from overplanting of tobacco, without the sustainable supply of wood for curing, any type of crop will become difficult to grow. A reforestation program needs to be enforced and monitored. Meanwhile, smallholder farmers should be looking at additional and alternative crops to sustain their incomes.

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