Coal-fired tobacco curing on the way

The tobacco industry is developing more energy-efficient ways for small-scale farmers to cure their crop, says the chair of the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board, Monica Chinamasa.

Most of the farmers resettled under the government’s land reform programme use wood to cure their tobacco, instead of coal – the preferred method of former commercial farmers.

Wood is less efficient than coal, so more is needed for the process.

“The research board has come up with what they call the rocket barn which uses both coal and firewood. This is better than the barns they are currently using,” Chinamasa told The Zimbabwean.

Farmers have been receiving free gum tree seeds to plant a hectare of woodland when they buy inputs – a method devised by the government to curb the increasing loss off woodlands.

Chinamasa said the Chinhoyi University of Technology was developing a new system that could be used by farmers.

“We need to spread the word to the farmers that these new methods are available to them,” she said.

Tobacco is the only crop to see significant growth in production in recent times, but woodlands have suffered as a result. Analysts have blamed the poor planning of the land reform programme for the environmental problems attributed to tobacco production. They contend that the farmers were simply thrown into commercial agriculture without the necessary support.

Zimbabwe, Brazil and the USA are the world’s top three producers of flue-cured tobacco. Curing is done in specialised barns where heated air is circulated to extract moisture from the tobacco leaves.

Environmentalists have expressed alarm at the rate indigenous trees have been disappearing to satisfy farmers’ appetites.

Because of the costs involved, coal and electricity including the infrastructure that go with them, are beyond the reach of the farmers.

According to some estimates in 2011, an estimated 46,000 hectares of forest was cleared, and about 1.38m cubic metres of firewood burnt to cure 127m kilos of tobacco.

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