THE Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) has come under attack for licensing tobacco firms that are fuelling deforestation in Hurungwe as they subcontract farmers who cannot afford buying coal and end up chopping down trees to cure the golden leaf.

Many tobacco firms are flooding Hurungwe district, which normally receives good rainfall for tobacco and other crops.

Traditional leaders and councillors from Hurungwe rural and Karoi town, who were part of the people who provided information to the Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Parliamentary Portfolio Committee at the Forestry Amendment Bill hearings last week, said they were not happy that TIMB and Hurungwe Rural District Council were benefitting financially while forests were diminishing fast, affecting rainfall patterns.

Headman Hands Chundu, under Chief Chundu, said: “Traditional leaders are left counting loses of forests when the tobacco firms are licensed in Harare and through the local council.

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However, the forests left bare are under headmen and chiefs’ jurisdiction. We want tobacco firms to be accountable for their actions as our forests are being wasted and trees cut, leaving the areas semi-deserts. As traditional leaders, we want tough laws that bind the tobacco firms to revive these forests.”

Karoi councillor Kenston Kumuponda said the tobacco firms should give back to communities they operate in.

“Part of these tobacco companies’ mandate is corporate social responsibility, but nothing has been done to plough back into the communities. We want the bill to have teeth so that they act on our behalf and develop the district,” he said.

Another Hurungwe councillor, Agnes Nxele, suggested that the contract farmers should use solar-powered systems to cure the golden leaf.

“We must be proactive on climate change and we must go green through use of solar powered system to cure tobacco so that we preserve our forests. Use of coal is better to protect the forests,” she said.

Chief Adam Katsvere Chanetsa called for stiffer mandatory sentences for those who cause veld fires.

“We have mandatory sentence for livestock theft and so for veld fires, we must also have a mandatory sentence so that we curb it once and for all,’ Chief Chanetsa said.

Headman Florence Mocho, from Chundu, called for advocacy and awareness campaigns to be held by traditional leaders so that subjects are well informed on the dangers of veld fires and forest destruction.

“We must all be part of the solution to avert deforestation through awareness and advocacy as traditional leaders,” she said.

The Parliament Portfolio Committee chairperson Consilia Chinanzvavana said the Forestry Amendment Bill seeks to amend the Forest Act [Chapter 19:05] of 1947.

“The minister seeks to align it with current reality. As the Parliament Portfolio Committee, we are here to get your inputs as part of the law-making process to enhance the protection of forests from veld fires through the introduction of mandatory and deterrent sentences as well as recognise aggravating consequences of veld fires, such as death and damage to property and make provision for their prosecution in terms of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act,” she said.

She also highlighted that the Bill seeks to introduce a multi-sectorial, decentralised and gendered approach to fire management that includes local authorities, Arex officials, the transport sector and traditional leaders, among others.

The committees will travel to Muzarabani, Uzumba, Maramba, Pfungwe, Chipinge, Chimanimani and other areas.