Lovemore Kadzura-Rusape Correspondent
SMALL-SCALE tobacco farmers are losing their crop for a song to middlemen who have invaded the golden leaf growing regions to entice farmers with cash.
A survey conducted by The Manica Post Business revealed that unregistered middlemen are approaching tobacco farmers in Makoni and Odzi to offer them hard currency for their crop.
However, the rates being paid to the farmers is way lower that those used at auction and contract floors.
The middlemen, most of whom are working in cahoots with floor employees, then resell the tobacco at the floors at higher prices, thereby short-changing the farmers.
The middlemen have growers’ numbers which they use to sale the tobacco at the official market.
However, the diversion of tobacco grown under contract will leave farmers in perpetual debt as the contracting companies will still expect to receive tobacco from the contracted farmers.
Tobacco Farmers’ Union Trust president, Mr Victor Mariranyika, whose organisation mainly represents small-scale farmers, said the illegal buyers are reaping off farmers.
He said some farmers are opting for the middlemen to avoid the hassle of transporting their tobacco to the floors as well as the bank queues.
“Illegal tobacco buyers are all over the tobacco growing regions, flashing wads of cash to entice farmers who are not patient enough to take their crop to the floors. The dealers are going straight to the farms and plots to buy the crop. They pay cash on the spot.
“These buyers are offering an average of US$2 per kg for tobacco before reselling it for higher prices at the floors. Farmers are losing a lot of money because they are selling ungraded and unclassified crop at very low prices that are below the production costs.
“As farmer unions, we are trying our best as to discourage farmers from side marketing as it is illegal. It has the potential of destroying the sector.
“It is also dangerous to entertain these buyers because farmers risk being robbed of their crop,” said Mr Mariranyika.
He called on responsible authorities to expedite the payment of farmers once the crop has been delivered.
“The Tobacco Marketing and Levy Act must be revisited to address issues of side marketing, errant auction floors and other emerging trends in the industry,” said Mr Mariranyika.
Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) public relations officer, Ms Chelesani Moyo, said so far 35 illegal merchants and sellers have been arrested and fined for side marketing.
“For the 2020/21 marketing season, TIMB has embarked on an exercise to name and shame illegal buyers and sellers. The aim of the exercise is to discourage repeat offending and also deter would-be illegal buyers and sellers.
“So far, 35 illegal buyers and sellers of tobacco have been convicted and fined. Registered growers will have their registration cancelled in line with Section 32 of the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Act, Chapter 18.20 if they are caught on the wrong side of the law.
“We are encouraging all tobacco growers to sale their tobacco through licensed floors and registered contractors,” said Ms Moyo.