Zimbabwe: World Wildlife Day – Decoding Tobacco-Driven Deforestation

Interview

Zimbabwe joins the rest of the globe today to mark the World Wildlife Day to celebrate and raise awareness of fauna and flora and recognise the important role of CITES in ensuring that international trade does not threaten the survival of species. Sifelani Tsiko (ST), our Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor speaks to Collen Matema (CM), a senior programme official at the African Wildlife Foundation Zimbabwe about the day and efforts being made by the country to reduce tobacco-related deforestation.

ST: What does the World Wildlife Day theme: “Forests and livelihoods: sustaining people and planet” aim to achieve?

CM: The theme aims to improve the relationship between forests, forest species, ecosystem services, and people whose livelihoods depend on them. The focus is to promote sustainable use of forest resources in view of the essential services that are derived from them by the human population. It is also to recognise the important part played by indigenous and local people in managing some of these ecosystems. For example, approximately 28 percent of forest land globally are successfully managed by indigenous people whose livelihoods depend on them.

ST: To what extent does the theme help to attain the UN Sustainable Development Goals 1, 12, 13 and 15?

CM: Forests are a critical component to sustain life and, therefore, the theme is in sync with Goal 1: No poverty — End extreme poverty in all forms by 2030, Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production — ensure sustainable consumption and production systems, Goal 13: Climate Action — Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact and SDG 15 as it recognises the role of forests in sustaining the planet.

By promoting Natural Resource Management models that allow indigenous people to benefit from forest resources, we can improve people’s well-being, reducing extreme poverty.

Preserving forests and forest species help in mitigating the negative impact of climate change, improving ecosystem services of forest lands through carbon sequestration among other services.

ST: Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world to mark WWD. What are some of the programmes you are carrying out in Hurungwe with tobacco farmers to reduce deforestation?

CM: African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and Zambezi Society (ZAMSOC) are working with tobacco farmers and stakeholders to improve sustainability in the tobacco growing and processing value chain. With support from the European Union, our focus is to support compatible land-use by tobacco farmers, through a responsible production system that promotes sustainable wood harvest from the forest.

ST: What is the main aim of the programme with tobacco farmers? What do you hope to achieve?

CM: The project is mainly aimed at reducing tobacco-related deforestation. Tobacco curing is a major cause of deforestation in Hurungwe, since farmers are forced to burn vast amounts of wood in order to properly cure their tobacco. Our project helps tobacco buyers, merchants and small-scale tobacco farmers to adopt fuel efficient post-harvest tobacco curing practices. We have introduced new technologies, such as rocket barns, that reduce amount of fuel wood needed for curing.

The barns have helped to reduce fuel usage by half. In addition, we are promoting reforestation in the area through awareness campaigns and as a result we have seen tobacco farmers begin to grow trees in their farms, alongside the tobacco.

The action also promoted commitments by all tobacco stakeholders in upholding forest conservation through the inclusion of conservation covenants in contracts between tobacco buyers and contract small scale tobacco growers.

ST: What are some of the successful components of the programme in Hurungwe? Can the war against deforestation for tobacco curing be won?

CM: 10 Rocket barns have been built in the project area as a pilot project to demonstrate available options of energy efficient tobacco curing techniques in the project area.

The use of rocket barns has been well received by the communities and we are in the process of working with the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) to expand the project and on board 30 smallholder tobacco farmers into their Rocket Barn Construction Scheme for 2021.

Data on fuel wood used collected and analysed for the 2019/2020 tobacco marketing season also confirmed that rocket barns are more fuel efficient, reducing fuel wood requirements by between 54-61 percent and producing better quality tobacco which fetches better prices on the market.

To date the project has managed to hold separate meetings with tobacco buyers, key stakeholders of Ward 8 and small holder tobacco farmers.

A total of 22 tobacco buyers operate in Ward 8 of Hurungwe District and of these 12 work with more than 100 small scale tobacco farmers. We have managed to engage seven of the 12 dominant tobacco buyers who are now working as a task force to promote the adoption of the fuel efficient rocket barns.

On the two fronts, the private sector tobacco merchants and small holder tobacco farmers, there is some concerted effort towards reducing the rate of deforestation. We are looking forward to partnering with the Zimbabwe Government through Forestry Commission, as well as private sector players such as TIMB, Mashonaland Tobacco Company (MTC) and Traditional Leaders to establish one-hectare woodlots for beneficiaries of the pilot rocket barns.

The Forestry Commission will supply the seedlings, supervise planting of the trees and provide extension services. TIMB and tobacco buyers will supply logistical support and encourage contracted farmers to join the scheme. The tree planting of the 10 woodlots is expected to be done by end of March 2021.

ST: The human wildlife conflict (HWC) is still a major area of concern to most local communities in Zimbabwe. What do you think needs to be done to promote management models and practices that accommodate both human well-being and the long-term conservation of forests and wildlife?

CM: It is critical to make communities living with wildlife get significant economic benefit from wildlife that outweigh losses from predation and crop raiding especially at the household level.

In addition, we must also innovate and implement models that mainstream simple, effective, low cost, safe and acceptable HWC mitigation strategies with honest and transparent engagement of local communities. AWF is doing this in Mbire district by training farmers how to repel elephants by burning chilli blocks, a strategy that is working well so far.

Local communities are sometimes taken for granted and programmes are implemented without their consent and active participation. To prevent this, we encourage and facilitate full and active participation of local communities, men, women, youths and other vulnerable groups in wildlife management, decision making, benefit sharing at a more decentralised level as incentives for living with wildlife.

Moving forward, we need to rethink about local level compensation models to meet extreme cases of HWC and further develop wildlife enterprise models that are diversified and viable while also investing in other non-wildlife sectors for local community improved economic benefits and resilience building.

ST: What are some of the challenges you are facing when it comes to resolving the human-wildlife conflict in parts of Zimbabwe?

CM: Compensation issues always surface, especially in drought years when communities have very little harvests and crop raids by wildlife increase. It is a fine balance between protecting wildlife and people’s valued resources.

But it can be done. Wildlife authorities, not just in Zimbabwe, but in the rest of Africa, operate on lean budgets so it becomes difficult to marshal adequate resources to support responses to severe cases of HWC.

AWF is helping to fill this gap this through training community wildlife scouts and equipping them with the skills and materials necessary to respond to HWC incidents.

ST: Looking ahead, what can various stakeholders do to help conserve the environment through reforestation and more sustainable ways of tobacco drying?

CM: The Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) has the capacity to lead the industry to promote sustainable use of forest through the promotion of technologies and production systems that have minimum impact of the forest resource.

There is also need for consideration of other promoting widespread reforestation programmes in all tobacco producing areas, to include indigenous trees and instituting by-laws to govern harvesting of fuel wood in some forests.

Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe launched the Tobacco Wood Energy Programme last year after realising that the gap between forest loss and replacement was too huge to ignore. This is a programme that encourages tobacco farmers to establish at least a one-hectare woodlot for every 10 hectares of tobacco grown.

This programme is supported by the Government of Zimbabwe through money deducted from tobacco sales annually (The Tobacco Levy), and this need to be supported and can lead to huge improvement in tree cover in the future.

The setting up of community patrol units to regularly patrol forest area as opposed to reacting to reports from informants has been suggested as a way of policing the forests.

Locals can be trained as Community Forest Rangers empowered to arrest any would be offenders and then surrender them to the local ZRP bases.

These rangers would also educate communities on the benefits of conserving forests. Community members would also be trained on how to establish nurseries, planting and maintaining the woodlots.

These activities can target employing women and children. Step by step promotion of agro-processing companies is also key. The introduction of contract farming for other crops such as chilli could provide options for those farmers not keen on tobacco farming. This would avert further depletion of our forests.

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