Every year, unsuspecting tobacco farmers have fallen prey to con artists who rob them of their hard earned cash.
Many have been left counting their losses, especially those who travel from faraway places to sell their tobacco in Harare.
For farmers in Manicaland, the possibility of falling victim to these predators has become a thing of the past following the opening of an auction floor in Rusape earlier this year.
Not only has the move to decentralise tobacco marketing reduced the risk of losing out to thieves, it has drastically reduced costs associated with travelling to Harare.
Farmers can now afford to bring their tobacco to the auction floors and come back the next day if they fail to conclude their business on that day.
The farmers are happy with this arrangement, especially considering that the prices in Manicaland are almost at par with those in Harare.
Operations at Boka Auction Floors are going on smoothly. And being the only player in the province following the closure of Agritrade Leaf Tobacco (ALT) on allegations of corruption, they have to step up their game.
Last week, Mr Samuel Matere, a farmer from Nyamukondiwa Farm in Nyazura, sold his crop for a whooping $5,40 per kg.
“This is my second sale at Boka and I got bales that sold at $5,40 per kg while the rest sold at $4,65. I won’t complain because the price is as good as I would have received in Harare, if not better, because I don’t have any added transport costs,” he said.
The 2018 tobacco marketing season opened in March with the highest price of $4,90 per kg.
Mr Matere is farming tobacco on seven hectares of land and he has sold more than 87 bales of tobacco this season. He expects to bring in a similar amount of tobacco before the season ends in August.
“I urge farmers in Manicaland to produce good quality tobacco and to use the right amount of fertilisers for them to get such good prices,” he said.
Female growers have also welcomed the auction floors in their area, saying they were easy targets for criminals in Harare.
Mrs Try Mudonhi said selling tobacco in Rusape has been one of the best experiences she has had as a farmer.
“We have been selling our tobacco at Boka floors since March this year and I am happy.
‘‘As women, we are easy targets for robbers but here our tobacco is received as soon as we get here and we conclude our business with none of those hassles we used to encounter in Harare. We even go back home to wait for payment and only come back here once it has been processed,” she said.
Another farmer, Mrs Fungai Murunda, said she is particularly happy to sell her tobacco in Rusape as she can now plan how to use the money with her husband as soon as payment comes through.
However, the farmers are not entirely delighted with the fact that they only get $300 as cash while the rest of their money is deposited in their bank accounts.
Boka Auction Floors head of leaf and sales Mr Percy Chifamba said cash challenges are a universal problem and therefore their hands are tied.
He, however, said as Boka they have done all they can to ensure that farmers in Manicaland can conveniently sell their tobacco.
“At the end of the day, we have a happy farmer and we believe they will come back next season.
“We are not only buying their tobacco. We are also giving them technical support because we believe these farmers need support to grow in this industry,” he said.
He said Boka is encouraging farmers to grow other crops so as to widen their income bases.
“We want progressive farmers who strive to do well in all they do,” said Mr Chifamba.
The Boka Auction Floors are currently receiving between 600 to 700 bales of tobacco every day. The figure is expected to increase significantly as the season draws to an end.
Tobacco is the main crop in Rusape, Odzi and Macheke. Farmers have been struggling to take their crop to Harare.
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