Errant tobacco farmers, contractors face jail

Farmers and agriculture contractors who breach production agreements risk being jailed under the new regulations that the Government intends to introduce.
The regulations are meant to ensure professional and ethical conduct between the two parties.
A Statutory Instrument containing the stringent measures has already been crafted and will soon be gazetted. Under the proposed arrangement, both farmers and contractors will be required to register with the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development.

The ministry should also be informed on the nature of contracts entered into.
Punitive action, including a possible jail term determined by the amount of money involved, will be meted out to those who breach the contract terms.

Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Deputy Minister (Crops and Irrigation Development) Dr Davis Marapira revealed that the impending legal instrument was mulled following widespread contractual disagreements. “Anyone who breaches a contract will face a jail term, which should be determined by the amount of money involve,” he said. “The SI also seeks to institute punitive measures against contractors who lie to farmers that they will fully finance crop production and when it comes to the actual delivery of inputs they give inadequate inputs.”

Reacting to the news, Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union second vice-president Mr Berean Mukwende said authorities should enforce available regulations before taking drastic action.

He also blamed contractors for fuelling side-marketing by not providing extension services to farmers.
“The Agriculture Marketing Authority (Ama) is not enforcing the current legislation, there is no need for Government to introduce such punitive measures.

“What the new SI should seek to address is the relationship between farmers and contractors.”
Ama and contracting companies contacted last week could not immediately respond.

Contract farming has gained dominance over the last decade mainly due to poor agriculture sector funding by both Government and financial institutions.

In the 2012/13 season, 60 percent of registered tobacco farmers opted for this system. This season, 70 percent were contracted by 14 companies.

Cotton has always been grown under contract in keeping with legislation that compels buyers to fund production.
However, the contract system has proved to be a hotbed of conflict between farmers and companies.

Contractors accuse some farmers of side-marketing while growers, in turn, allege particular companies supply inadequate inputs and go on to demand disproportionately higher yields. Contracting firms have also constantly featured under the spotlight for introducing dodgy contractual provisions specifically tailored to dupe farmers.

At present, errant farmers are liable to a fine while most implicated contractors walk scot-free as growers often do not pursue cases further.

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