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Conservationist Douglas Mafukidze champions an alternative approach to tobacco farming in Zimbabwe

Conservationist Douglas Mafukidze champions an alternative approach to tobacco farming in Zimbabwe
Douglas Mafukidze talks through his methods in front of his eucalyptus trees. (Photo: Wild Africa Fund)

Douglas Mafukidze is a tobacco farmer and conservationist from Karoi, Zimbabwe. He’s an early adopter of, and fierce advocate for, an initiative started by the Forestry Commission in Zimbabwe to protect indigenous forests.

Having lived in the Karoi area for many years, Douglas Mafukidze remembers the landscape on his arrival – one which was richly forested. 

It’s a landscape that has changed dramatically, with 60,000 hectares of forest lost annually to the tobacco industry in Zimbabwe. It’s a significant portion of an annual loss of 262,000 hectares in total. 

Douglas Mafukidze on his farm in Karoi. (Photo: Wild Africa Fund)

The rate of deforestation is having a devastating effect in Zimbabwe. (Photo: Wild Africa Fund)

Tobacco is one of Zimbabwe’s largest foreign currency earners, second only to gold mining. The tobacco curing process, however, is extremely wood intensive, resulting in thousands of indigenous trees being cut down each year to meet the demand. 

Mafukidze is confident, however, that the need for wood in the process is best met by the planting and cutting of trees like eucalyptus instead of natural forests. 

“You need to grow tobacco, but you don’t need to deforest,” he insists. “You can do it successfully while harvesting fast-growing trees.”

The eucalyptus saplings are provided by the Forestry Commission, which looks at ways that this non-indigenous solution can be replaced by indigenous ones in time. 

The Forestry Commission is also educating communities about the importance of forests and taking action against illegal deforestation. 

Saplings are grown in nurseries managed by the Forestry Commission, and supplied to tobacco farmers. (Photo: Wild Africa Fund)

Forestry Commission Operations Director Lewis Radzire stops a truck moving illegally felled wood, arresting the driver and impounding both the truck and its contents. (Photo: Wild Africa Fund)

While eucalyptus trees are not indigenous to Zimbabwe, they are fast-growing, and their use in the tobacco curing process is having a direct and positive impact on preserving important habitats for wildlife. 

An additional benefit of the eucalyptus trees has been their potential for beekeeping. (Photo: Wild Africa Fund)

“When I let these indigenous trees grow on their own, you can see for yourself that birds are here now, buck, and many other animals,” Mafukidze explains.  

He is passionate about spreading his message far and wide, teaching neighbours his farming methods and imparting knowledge to young people.  

Douglas walks local schoolchildren through his farm, talking to them about his methods. (Photo: Wild Africa Fund)

“Come and visit me,” Mafukidze invites the public. “Walk around and see the effects of saving and preserving trees.” DM

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