How to earn $3 per diem for applying chemicals in the field: Zimbabwe Tobacco Revival, Coal Logistics & Indigenous Hardwoods out of the door by 2050

The global count of cadavers as a result of smoking aside, this account of 21th century Zimbabwe’s Tobacco Revival will cold-shower you with its ridiculously low wages and remind you of the environment-unfriendly stance held by international lender-funders like the World Bank. On top of that, there is deforestation and mountain acacia’s best friend — western Zimbabwe-sourced coal.

“While coal and non-indigenous fast growing tree species are seen as the panacea for deforestation in Zimbabwe, environmentalists say these options can create other problems.”

Coal emits warming greenhouse gases into the atmosphere while the water-hungry eucalyptus trees may deplete water sources.

With this, be reminded that the world as a whole is in a mess and it’s high time for all of us to come up with Swiss-knife solutions to the complex problems. Right..

Forest saved Zimbabwe tobacco

Then remember: if you can’t measure it you probably can’t make it. And yet again, our local, national and international sets of data are a reflection of the world as it is: complex and incomplete, outright fraudulent at times.

Only 37% of the country’s land receives rainfall considered adequate for agriculture. This is according to the data sourced back in 2014 from Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Agriculture website — which was down at the time this post went public.

Local press reported back in May 2014 that most farmers pay their workers USD2-3 for eight hours of hard labour for either cultivating or applying chemicals in the fields. This was a far cry from the agreed poverty datum line of around USD520 — probably a monthly stat.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, agricultural extension was introduced in Zimbabwe in 1927 by Emory D. Alvord, who started with nine agricultural demonstration workers.

Agriculture provides livelihoods to 80% of Zimbabwe’s population and accounts for 23% of formal employment.

Most of Zimbabwe’s tobacco farmers are reported to rely on wood to cure tobacco, a practice that’s stripping Southern African nation of its woodlands. Chopping down the trees to get flue-cured tobacco –used to flavor cigarettes — proves to be cheaper than using coal or electricity. Coal can amount to 10 % of the farmer’s production costs.

While coal is cheap at source — about 800 km away in Hwange, western edge of Zimbabwe, close to the renowned resort area of Victoria Falls — the cost of transporting it to the tobacco-growing regions makes it expensive.

A farmer needs at least 3.5kg of coal to cure a kilogramme of tobacco

In an interview for IRIN, a news agency focusing on humanitarian stories in regions overlooked by international media, Rodney Ambrose of the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association said the average cost of coal to a farmer is USD170 per ton.

Eating into the otherwise small profit of over 90,000 small-scale cultivators is the cost of inputs like seed, fertilizer and chemicals.

The externalities?

The growers account for about 15 % of Zimbabwe’s annual deforestation of about 330,000 hectares, according to the state’s Forestry Commission.

Some reports say, around 2005 the loss was 20 %.

An estimated 7.5 million trees are destroyed annually, mainly due to curing tobacco.

At the current rate, expect indigenous forests to disappear within 50 years.

Only 45 % of natural forest to go

Back in the day, Zimbabwe rivaled the U.S. as the source of the world’s best quality tobacco. 237 million kilograms is no small amount, is it? The record crop is forecast to be back this year.

Does the tobacco revival mean Zimbabwe sees msasa, mountain acacia and mnondo — indigenous hardwoods — out of the door by 2050?

State-run Tobacco Industry Marketing Board:

While in 2000 all of the crop was sold at auctions, today 70 % is grown under contracts for the likes of British American Tobacco Plc and Universal Corp.

Do the multinationals lead the environmental movement around the world?

Mind you! It’s not that bad in Zimbabwe only. Guided by the reduction of poverty as their official goal, the World Bank still suffers from a pervasive ‘loan approval culture’ “driven by a perverse incentive system that pressures staff and managers to make large loans to governments and corporations without adequate attention to environmental, governance and social issues.”

World Bank lending for coal, oil and gas was USD3 billion in 2008 — a sixfold increase from 2004. In the same year, only USD476 million went toward renewable energy sources.

Scarcity of land under management of small-scale farmers and low margins probably mean no big incentive for the cultivators to plant trees in a sustainable manner.

In Zimbabwe’s capital city Harare, Sustainable Afforestation Association  — set up in October 2013 by tobacco growers and merchants with the support of Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board — vowed to spend USD33.5 million to replant about 5,000 hectares of trees a year by 2021.

Checked today, last time the SAS site reported news was back in June 2014.

The money — SAS promised in a local news report — would be raised through a 0.5 % levy on net annual tobacco earnings.

The Environmental Management Agency’s Steady Kangata told IRIN that more trees are being felled than being planted.

Tobacco farmers are required to pay USD25 for a permit to cut firewood to the Forestry Commission every year. This money is then used to plant seedlings in deforested areas.

The farmers resist paying the fee. A solution to this problem may be in a sustained campaign to educate Zimbabwe’s tobacco growers.

Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board reportedly talks with various coal distributors to see if they can make the coal available in affordable bags for the farmers.

Delivered by the wagon load of about 40 tons, most small-scale growers only afford to buy 50 or 100 kg bags of coal at a time.

And then there are rocket barns (furnaces), which use 50 % less wood because of their design. How many can you buy at USD5,000-6,000 a piece?

According to IRIN, income from tobacco in 2013 accounted for at least 10.7 % of Zimbabwe’s GDP and 21.8 % of all exports, compared to 9.2 % for other agricultural commodities.

For comparison, agriculture as a whole contributes 14 -18.5% to the GDP. Zimbabwe’s nominal GDP currently hovers around USD11 bn.

While diversifying Zimbabwe's Economy, Educate Tobacco Farmers, Solve Low Wages, Deforestation
While diversifying Zimbabwe’s Economy, Educate Tobacco Farmers, Solve Low Wages, Deforestation

On the UNESCO website, there is a talk of one Rural Afforestation Programme , a government-run program implemented with the help of national and international NGOs — World Development Bank, African Development Bank, The Netherlands Development Organization among them — to grow mainly gum trees like Eucalyptus spp, “to provide communities with a source of fuelwood and with poles for construction”.

No figures in view on the above-mentioned UN-run page to cry out SUCCESS STORY!

Ultimate solution? There have been reports of research by the Tobacco Research Board on the use of solar energy and biogas in Zimbabwe.

Environmental Management Agency’s Steady Kangata maintains renewable, clean energy is the ultimate solution for tobacco growers.

Now major question remains: what exactly do we all need to prioritize to help promote these alternative energy sources in Zimbabwe? And don’t forget those two-dollar per diems!


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