Woodlots prop up tobacco production in Kasungu
Binwell Bokosi is an estate owner who grows both burley and Flue Cured Variety (FCV) in T/A Chilowamatambe area in Kasungu.
He has been growing tobacco for close to 15 years and is well versed with the production of these tobacco varieties.
Land preparation, tending nurseries and planting tobacco are some of the simple tasks that he gets done with easily.
However, he has always had challenges with harvesting the tobacco for marketing. This is because he requires a lot of wood for barn construction, curing and domestic use.
Worse still, wood requirements are extended to many tobacco farmers, labourers and family members at his estate.
He gets worried because forestry cover in his area has been decreasing rapidly over the past 15 years due to population growth.
Likewise, Mangochi Kabanga is another tobacco farmer at Kiliati Village in Traditional Authority Dambe in the same district.
After noticing the challenges of wood in curing tobacco and barn construction, he decided to venture into bamboo growing.
He has been growing bamboos since 2000 and appreciates the fast growth and multiple uses bamboos afford him.
Both Bokosi and Kabanga have been Limbe Leaf Tobacco Company Limited farmers since 2012 and have realised the benefits of working with the company in forestry management.
Bokosi says forest cover in his area decreased rapidly over the past years. This is because many tobacco farmers, family members and labourers in the area have been using wood in barn construction or curing as well as domestic purposes.
He further states that as a contracted farmer, he has been privy to trainings on various management topics in forestry, but mostly he has benefitted from the support in the establishment of his four hectares exotic tree woodlot.
“The establishment of the exotic woodlot has decreased the pressure exerted on the indigenous woodland which has been previously cut down without restraint to support production.
“I commend Limbe Leaf for providing financial and technical support for the indigenous woodlot as well as the setting up the exotic woodlot,” says Bokosi.
Bokosi says through the trainings, he integrated multiple forestry practices including bamboo growing for the sustainability and improvement of the quantity and quality of his tobacco.
Through a dynamic indigenous woodland management approach, he has witnessed a regeneration of the once degraded piece of land and consequently an increase in biodiversity evidenced by the presence wild animals like gazelle (gwape) and hare (kalulu).
The biggest challenge he has been experiencing is theft of the trees.
Unlike Bokosi, Kabanga has been growing bamboo since the year 2000 and appreciates the fast growth and multiple uses bamboo growing affords him.
Kabanga further appreciates the assistance Limbe Leaf provides him in technical as well as financial support. For the past three years, he has participated in training sessions conducted by Limbe Leaf field forestry technicians and benefited enormously.
“Every time a leaf technician visits me, I learn new things in management of trees and bamboos,” he says adding that he can also consult the technicians as they are accessible all the time.
Limbe Leaf Forestry Manager, Stanley Kulapani, appreciates that tobacco production is heavily dependent on trees and other woody plants for curing and barn construction and that there is need to conserve them.
Limbe Leaf has a well-established and experienced forestry section within the agronomy department that plans and executes the forestry programs.
The department has an extension team of about 20 well trained Forestry Technicians led by forestry specialists at the Head Office.
“Limbe Leaf realises the critical role it can play in addressing some of the challenges the country is experiencing in afforestation.
“The company embarked on forestry programs with its growers to ensure sustainable tobacco production. The program began in the early 2000s and has progressively scaled up over the years. The forestry programme started based on the understanding that tobacco production can only be sustained with a systematic viable and pragmatic environmental and natural resource management,” says Kulapani.
The programme required substantial resources to be made available so that degraded indigenous or arable patches of land / plots are properly managed and regenerated into vibrant resourceful woodlots.
The resources were also used in training and awareness rising to convince farmers that it’s possible and viable to manage and extract resources from indigenous plots for domestic use and tobacco curing.
“This is also in tandem with United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) specifically on environmental sustainability.
“Limbe Leaf has a multifaceted approach in ensuring that tobacco production is environmentally compliant. The approaches entail tree establishment, management of miombo woodlands, bamboo program, catchment conservation and promotion of commercial plantations,” says Kulapani.
He says since around 2012, Limbe Leaf has planted about 5 million trees involving small holder farmers in seedling production, tree planting and tending.
“We have invested a lot of resources in training, distribution of inputs like sleeves, tree seedlings, fertilizers, chemicals and technical support. All contracted growers under the Integrated Production System (IPS) also known as contract farming have been mandated to plant trees and ensure their survival,” he says. Kulapani also says the bamboo programme has been a lynch pin of the Company’s environmental compliance approaches.
“Bamboos are versatile woody plants that have multiple uses and auger well with sustainable tobacco production. Currently, some of the Company’s farmers have 100 percent bamboo burley barns.
“The programme is extending to FCV production because bamboos can be used to cure tobacco as they have high calorific values as other woody tree species,” says Kulapani.
He adds that Limbe Leaf has commercial plantations that buttress the smallholder forestry programs.
“We understand that smallholder tree planting programs face a lot of challenges and commercial forests complement such efforts and ensure sustainability. These are highly mechanised and large plantations that have got high and extensive management systems and are currently located in Kabwafu (Mzimba) and Kasungu areas and they are on over 500 hectares,” says Kulapani.
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