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NEWLY resettled tobacco farmers have rejected as nonsense charges by some environmentalists that they are contributing to massive deforestation in some parts of the country.

Speaking on the sidelines of a Tobacco Growers Association meeting held in Harare last week, the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union director, Edward Tome, said newly resettled farmers were in fact practising better farming methods to fight deforestation than their predecessors.

Tome said tobacco farmers were planting trees each tobacco farming season in a programme he said is called Responsible Tobacco Production (RTP).

“We now have what is called the Southern Africa Deforestation Initiative where we are working hand-in-hand with the tobacco industry to provide seedlings of quick growing trees to tobacco farmers at no cost for planting and they are actually looking for more land to plant more trees,” said Tome.

“And all the contracting tobacco companies are now required to provide the quick growing trees to all their farmers at the maximum of 100 trees per hectare every year.

“We also work with the Forestry Commission where these seedlings are heavily subsidised. This has not started now because some environmentalists are raising the issue but we have been doing it for years,” he said.

Guy Mutasa, the president of the Tobacco National Farmers Union, said some contractors were also supplying farmers with coal which is being used in rocket barns.

“Rocket barns do not use any firewood except coal alone and these come included in a package with fertilisers and chemicals and this has cut on the deforestation,” he said.

“These people are criticising farmers now yet they are the same people who were also destroying forests when they were developing whatever they wanted in the past.

“We are also working with a local university to introduce biogas and solar tobacco curing barns and we hope very soon this will come into effect. This will also help us to produce better quality tobacco that will compete on the world market.

Mutasa said instead of making noise in their air-conditioned offices the environmentalists should come out in the field and see what is happening on the ground.

Since the land reform programme by the Zanu PF government and the low maize producer prices many newly resettled farmers have resorted to tobacco farming as it fetches more on the market.

This year, a kilogram of tobacco was selling for $4.85.

Source : New Zimbabwe