‘Decentralise tobacco auction system’

As tobacco exports rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars, farmers continue to experience problems at auction floors.

After travelling long distances, many farmers find themselves without proper shelter and sanitation.

Although tobacco is one of Zimbabwe’s biggest foreign currency earners, contributing at least 10 percent to GDP, marketing of the golden leaf can bring misery.

Apart from the health hazards, farmers are exposed to marauding thieves and cunning sex workers.

Long queues and middlemen who give them low prices have left many-a-farmer livid.

Several measures have been instituted to bring relief, but more still needs to be done.

Among the measures was introduction of an e-marketing system, but it needs upgrading to weed out chaos and corruption.

The Tobacco Industry Development Support Institute for Southern Africa has called on authorities to establish auction floors in tobacco growing regions across Zimbabwe so that the congestion and disorder at the Harare floors is done away with.

This, according to the institute, will also reduce transport costs for farmers.

Tobacco is Zimbabwe’s biggest agricultural exporter and the second biggest earner after minerals. So far the TIMB states that sales have so far earned $300 million, a 30 percent increase from last year during the same period.

Mr Wonder Chabikwa, the president of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union, wants an electronic marketing system similar to that seen in other countries.

“We are saying the systems which we copied from India, where it is working, should also work here. This year, we have to have it work. If you noticed last year, auction prices were going up when the system was used.

“We are left with no option, but to suspect that there were some dirty hands that didn’t want it to work. That is the most transparent way and it must work because elsewhere it’s working,” Mr Chabikwa was quoted in a local daily.

Mr Paul Zakariya, the executive director of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union, says things will get better.

“Before the land reform programme, we had few white commercial farmers who were producing tobacco. Apart from being few, the farmers were well-resourced and well-organised.

“What we have now is more players competing for less space. In my view, nothing has been done to provide space for the farmers,” he says.

Mr Zakariya concurs that decentralisation of auction floors is a priority.

Recent media reports indicate that funds for decentralisation of auction floors have been availed to the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board.

“Farmers must also be organised and make bookings first before they come to the floors. At the same time, auction floors must also take the volumes they can handle in a day. Banks are also very slow in processing the money,” adds Mr Zakariya.

In 2017, tobacco sales reaped $600 million, with 190 million kilogrammes of the crop sold. The projection is for sales of 200 million kg this season.

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