PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has threatened to ban tobacco production if the indiscriminate cutting down of trees by Zimbabwe's poorly resourced indigenous farmers continues.
In his Independence Day speech weekend, Mugabe said tobacco growers were causing desertification by cutting down trees for their treatment of the golden leaf.
"Our people are growing tobacco and want to make money out of it but on the down side we have seen massive deforestation leading to desertification in some areas. We are saying to them, 'use coal or we will stop tobacco production'," he said.
Zimbabwe has in the past decade seen an increase in the number of tobacco growers, thanks to government's land reform programme.
But the poorly resourced black farmers, who are former workers of the previous white land owners, have turned to forests in their bid to treat the highly rewarding produce, causing an environmental disaster in the process.
In most instances, the new farmers indiscriminately destroy forests and woodlots without replenishing them during tobacco curing.
But Mugabe, who has often displayed compassion for black land beneficiaries, said his government would rather not have tobacco growers than remain with deserts.
"We would rather have no tobacco than have deserts and no trees," he said, "To this end, government continues promoting tree planting that has seen some 9.8 million trees being panted during the current rainy season, a project driven significantly by the Tobacco Wood Energy Programme."
Mugabe's chaotic land reform exercise is blamed for the decimation of what was once a thriving agricultural sector.
At its peak, Zimbabwe was regarded as the breadbasket of Africa.
Tobacco was one of the country's biggest foreign currency earners, alongside gold and tourism while Zimbabwe was only second to Brazil in terms of tobacco growing and export with Europe and China being the major consumers.