THE Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) says it is working towards decarbonising tobacco production in line with Environment, Social and Governance investing (ESG).
This comes as international pressure for carbon-neutral treatment of the ‘golden leaf’ has been rising. ESG is a set of standards that govern how companies and funds ensure that they are responsible in the way that they make profits. It is a variation of the stakeholder model that businesses are increasingly adopting, which is founded on the stakeholder theory.

In the case of green investing, these other considerations revolve around stakeholders that are affected by a company’s carbon footprint, adherence to labour laws and support towards SDGs, as well as remuneration and corporate governance.
“An industry working group is developing minimum standards for sustainable tobacco production,” TIMB chief executive Meanwell Gudu told The Financial Gazette this week.

“TIMB will coordinate the enforcement of minimum standards with non-compliant players being penalised,” he said.
The decarbonisation plan for the industry looks urgent, given the government’s plan together with stakeholders in the industry to increase annual production to 300 million kilograms largely from smallholder farmers by 2025.

The Forestry Commission estimates that Zimbabwe loses 300 000 hectares of woodlands annually and that 15 percent of this deforestation rate is as a result of tobacco curing.

Weighing in on the decarbonisation plan for the industry, Tobacco Farmers Association president, Believe Tevera said TIMB has to come up with smart tobacco production models that promote sustainable production, tailor-made models that are implementable in the local communities and can be accepted by smallholder farmers.

“For now, the Zimbabwean smallholder farmers are more concerned about profits not the negative impacts of tobacco production to the environment and climate change. “As farmers we want smart tobacco production models to be implemented. We want to move away from the old tobacco curing methods that demand large quantities of firewood. We want to use solar and electric barns, but it appears we are still a long way away because farmers cannot afford that.”

As of now, Tevera said there is massive deforestation as a result of tobacco production, and the sector needs to respond with the appropriate action.
“A farmer with one hectare of tobacco needs two ten trucks of firewood or more to cure their tobacco. There is a need for more action to replenish the forests, or to shift to other curing methods to give the forests time to rejuvenate.”

According to The Sustainable Afforestation Association (SAA), a non-profit organisation founded in 2013, and subsequently funded by concerned tobacco merchants, the current efforts to reverse deforestation were not effective enough, and that a different approach was needed.
“SAA focuses on the establishment and management of fuelwood plantations, and preferentially contracts nurseries, land-clearing, establishment and protection activities to farmer partners, local communities, and commercial companies.

“We inject over three million dollars annually into farming and rural communities through sponsoring these activities. With its focus on the planting of trees, and a business model which results in the majority of all services being contracted.”
SAA plans to plant about 5 000 hectares annually. Even this ambitious target will not be enough to cure the 200 million kgs of tobacco that are produced annually, so additional solutions are urgently needed.

“Coal is available, but it is not sustainable, and unless furnaces have electrically powered fans to assist the combustion, it is expensive and inefficient. SAA has, therefore, started work to evaluate the use of biogas, ethanol, and solar energy in curing, and will be looking for ways to manage existing commercial and indigenous woodlands sustainably to supply the balance,” SAA further said.

Last year, Zimbabwe sold 187 million kgs of leaf tobacco valued at US$516 million up from US$452 million in 2020 to register a 16.8 percent increase in volume and 31 percent in value over the 2020 sales.

The TIMB noted that contract farming was the dominant supplier of tobacco, accounting for 93,4 percent of total sales compared to 6.6 percent for sales on auction floors. Average leaf prices ranged between $2,47 and $2,82 per kg.
Despite being a late-season, Gudu said TIMB expects a bigger yield this year.
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