Zimbabwe: Tobacco Farmers Demand Answers On U.S.$46m Afforestation Levy

20 February 2024

Edgar Vhera — Tobacco farmers are demanding answers from the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB), whom they accuse of underutilising US$46 million raised from afforestation levies since 2015 amid revelations that only 4 500 hectares of gum trees have been planted.

The farmers' concerns come amid growing fears the current sluggish reforestation efforts could spoil Zimbabwean tobacco's appeal on global markets that now favour products produced using sustainable methods.

In the 2015 national budget, the Government re-introduced the tobacco levy on tobacco growers at a rate of US$0, 015 per dollar of the selling price, with the revenue generated ring-fenced to finance re-forestation activities.

In the 2016 national budget the tobacco levy was slashed by half to 0, 75 percent in acknowledgement of the potential impact of the El-Nino induced drought on tobacco output and has remained on that level until now.

Zimbabwe Tobacco Association (ZTA) chief executive officer Mr Rodney Ambrose said farmers were not seeing any fruits from the reforestation drive yet the market was now demanding sustainably produced tobacco.

"It's now almost 10 years since TIMB started collecting an afforestation tax of 0, 75 percent from growers with over US$40 million collected and very little afforestation programmes taking place. Afforestation programmes are critical to the sustainability of Zimbabwe's tobacco production and markets, as close to 70 percent of the crop is cured using wood," he said.

The European Union (EU) has introduced legislation that bans trading and imports of select produce/products associated with deforestation of natural woodlands with the latest TIMB export statistics reflecting how important the EU market is, he added.

Calculation of statistics from TIMB show that over US$46 million has been collected since 2015.

Total tobacco contract and auction sales

Source: TIMB

Presenting the 2019 national budget, Finance and Economic Development Minister, Professor Mthuli Ncube said the administration of the tobacco levy by TIMB had not served its intended purpose of financing conservation initiatives in the country.

"In terms of the Forestry Act [Chapter 19:05] and the Communal Land Forest Produce Act [Chapter 19:04], the Forestry Commission is mandated to conduct forestry extension services within communities countrywide, promote tree seedling production, tree planting, conservation of trees and forests and enforcing forest legislation. In this regard, it is proposed that 50 percent of the proceeds from the tobacco levy be transferred to the Forestry Commission to enable the parastatal undertake its programmes in line with the mandate," he said.

In the 2021 budget, Government reiterated that the tobacco levy needed to address environmental damages caused by tobacco farming activities.

Minister Mthuli said: "There is need for inclusive stakeholder participation in planning and implementation of tree planting programmes so that the fund can have an impact. In addition, efforts should be made for stakeholders in the industry to invest in improved tobacco curing technology, including the use of coal instead of woods."

Meanwhile, in its 2019 annual report, the Forestry Commission commended Government's re-introduction of the afforestation levy on all tobacco farmers to finance reforestation initiatives in the country.

"Forestry Commission received $13 000 000 from Treasury, being financial support from the tobacco levy that was re-introduced through the National Budget of 2015 to be 'ring-fenced for re-forestation purposes.' However, Treasury did not avail the money to Forestry Commission until September 2019," said the annual report.

A total of 12 601 690 tree seedlings were produced against an annual target of 15 000 000. For tree planting, 5 674 752 trees were planted out of an aggregate target of 15 000 000, which signalled an under achievement due to drought, added the report."The release of the afforestation funds from Government boosted tree planting under the accelerated Tobacco Wood Energy Programme (TWEP). The TWEP rekindled Forestry Commission's afforestation and reforestation momentum with the establishment of four demonstration firewood plantations, one in each of the four major tobacco growing provinces of Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland West, Mashonaland East and Manicaland," continued the report. TWEP seeks to address deforestation caused by tobacco farming, which accounts for a fifth of the national deforestation rate of 300 000 hectares annually. Much of Zimbabwe's tobacco is cured using wood fuel. Through the TWEP, small-scale tobacco farmers are supplied with fast growing eucalyptus seedlings for woodlot establishment.

This way, farmers have a ready supply of exotic fuelwood and thus discourage farmers from resorting to slow growing natural/indigenous woodlands for tobacco curing.

The Forestry Commission 2020 annual report revealed that Government had increased the tobacco levy allocation from 50 to 100 percent resulting in them receiving $138 million in 2020.

Forestry Commission information communications manager Ms Violet Makoto recently said rolling out of the TWEP, which started in 2019 boosted infrastructure to produce the required seedlings to sustain the programme.

"Distribution of gum seedlings to farmers in the tobacco growing provinces began in the 2020/21 tree planting season and continued in the 2021/22, 2022/23 seasons and is continuing in the current 2023/24 season.

"Cumulatively we have established woodlots to cover 4 500 hectares, which translates to over seven million trees. This is to facilitate the sustainable growing of tobacco in the country, which has been credited with contributing 15 percent of the annual rate of deforestation in Zimbabwe (262 000 hectares)," she said.

Ms Makoto said the seedlings were provided free of charge to farmers under a Government initiative resourced through the afforestation fund adding that her organisation was working closely with tobacco companies and farmer groups to ensure farmers accessed the facility.

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