THE price of coal has shot up by 300%, forcing tobacco farmers to turn to firewood to cure the crop.
Coal price has gone up from US$65 per tonne to US$195 per tonne, placing it beyond the reach of many farmers.
They now have to cut down trees for firewood, leading to massive deforestation. Another disadvantage of wood is that it compromises the quality of the “golden leaf” because of its combustion inefficiency.
The situation is also worsened by an acute shortage of coal largely due to low production levels at the struggling Hwange Colliery Company, which was placed under reconstruction last year.
For farmers, who have opted to continue using coal, the costs of production have ballooned significantly.
Tobacco marketing usually begins in mid-February but erratic rains this cropping season have forced the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board to postpone it to next month.
Tobacco Association president Rodney Ambrose told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that most farmers are in a quandary over the prices of coal.
“The price increase from $65 per tonne to $195 per tonne will have a negative impact on the cost of production as this increase has also been coupled with a fuel and related transportation cost. This puts pressure on the need for a viable tobacco price to be paid to farmers and further government support to cater for this drastic increase at the peak of curing. The increase will reverse the gains made in getting more growers using coal as the cost becomes prohibitive and more trees will be cut; further accelerating deforestation. With an estimated 40% of tobacco farmers still to receive their coal, this is going to have negative impact on curing abilities,” Ambrose said.
“Many of the small-scale farmers were on a coal-for-wood substitution programme. With such an increase deforestation levels, are going to increase, substantially further damaging the environment, sustainability and traceability of our tobacco crop,” Ambrose said.
Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union crop specialist Simbarashe Muchena said the price hike is likely to increase the costs of tobacco farming and worsen deforestation.
“Due to price increase in coal, grower viability is threatened due to increased costs of production. More farmers will switch to firewood curing because the crop has to be cured or go to waste.
“If we cut trees without proper reforestation programme, it will not be good for the environment. Climate change is real and is already affecting us,” he said.
According to the Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe (FCZ) information and communications manager Violet Makoto, tobacco curing alone is responsible for 15% of the deforestation in Zimbabwe annually.
Tobacco is Zimbabwe’s biggest foreign currency-earning crop. In 2018, it generated US$729 million.