Samuel Kadungure Senior Reporter
Following a slow start to the tobacco marketing season last month as farmers were waiting for prices to firm, sales have significantly improved, with sales now exceeding US$44m following the sale of 20 000 tonnes at the auction floors.
Tobacco deliveries are expected to surge further as prices, currently 40 percent better than last season, continue to firm as the quality of the leaf improves.
Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) chief executive officer, Dr Andrew Matibiri told The Manica Post in an interview last week that despite the Covid-19 lockdown, deliveries at the auction floors were better than last season.
The tobacco marketing season opened on April 29, with farmers earning US$13 566 from the sale of 7 815 kg on that day.
The previous season saw 3 886kg, worth US$7 116, being sold on the opening day.
Generally, farmers test the waters in the early days by delivering primmings (lower quality leaf), while reserving the best leaf for the better prices.
“So far, about 20 000 tonnes, which translate to 256 647 bales valued at US$44 145 947, have been delivered to contract selling points across the country netting, while the main auction floors catered for the remainder. The deliveries are actually higher than last season,” said Dr Matibiri.
The highest price so far is $6.60, while the lowest is $0.10.
The average price for this week is $2.22.
Dr Matibiri said they were addressing some of the challenges faced by farmers after unions lobbied Government to remove some regulations introduced by TIMB as they are said to be restrictive.
Small-scale tobacco farmers are arguing that some of the regulations are disempowering them, especially with regards to transporting the tobacco to the floors.
Most farmers who have two-tonne trucks are not in agreement with a regulation that only allows seven-tonne trucks to transport tobacco, arguing that they are being charged exorbitantly.
In addition, farmers are reluctant to sell their crop through a third party.
They argue that while the regulation is meant to ease congestion at the auction floors and prevent the spread of Covid-19, it creates room for them to be ripped-off.
Dr Matibiri said they are investigating unscrupulous middlemen who are barter trading tobacco with groceries.
“About 80 percent of the small-scale farmers grow a hectare of tobacco and produce about 20 bales, which can be ferried using the two-tonne trucks. This is a genuine concern that we should resolve soon. The other challenge is that farmers are not willing to sell their crop in absentia. They want to be at the auction floors,” said Dr Matibiri.
“We are also investigating reports of middlemen moving around tobacco growing areas buying tobacco from farmers when they are not licenced to do so. This practice is illegal and punishable.
“We have nabbed some of them and we are conducting more investigations. Those caught will be brought to book. It is unacceptable and farmers should know it is illegal because it takes two to commit an offence,” said Dr Matibiri.
Zimbabwe Tobacco Union Trust president, Mr Victor Mariranyika said the middlemen are taking advantage of the lockdown to misinform and rip farmers off.
“They are rampant in Headlands and Nyavada. They are wreaking havoc and taking quality tobacco for a song. Some of farmers are told it is better than selling at the auction floors, which is a big lie. Some are even exploiting the farmers and buying the gold leaf through foodstuffs,” said Mr Mariranyika.
Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) executive director, Mr Paul Zakaria said the gap between deliveries and payment must be addressed. He also said the foreign currency deposited in the farmers’ nostro accounts should be readily accessible.
Farmers are required to have two functional bank accounts — nostro and local currency accounts – before delivery of the crop to ensure prompt payments.