Thursday, February 20, 2014

Zimbabwe Tobacco Farmers Must Reap Their Rewards

EDITORIAL COMMENT: Tobacco farmers must reap their rewards

February 20, 2014 Opinion & Analysis
Zimbabwe Herald

herald most readThe 2014 tobacco selling season opened yesterday with the first batch of the lucrative crop going for US$4,85 per kilogramme compared to US$4,50 in 2013, raising hope among farmers that they might reap good rewards from their sweat this year.

The land reform programme has recorded tremendous success in the tobacco sector, which has seen at least 90 000 farmers venturing into the growing of the golden leaf, up from about 4 000 white former commercial farmers.

As the selling season begins, we implore Government to ensure some monitoring mechanisms are put in place to ensure buyers and merchants do not fleece hapless farmers by offering ridiculously low prices.

Some unscrupulous players in the sector have a tendency of offering impressive prices in the presence of the Agriculture Minister during the official opening, but slash the prices as soon as they are gone, resulting in the situation degenerating into violence in some instances.

There are cases where merchants offer as little as US 10 or 60 cents per kilogramme to farmers for the early crop, prices that any sane farmer should reject. However, some poor farmers from rural areas, who do not have accommodation in Harare and also use hired transport, are normally taken advantage of by the merchants and surrender their crop for a song.

We call upon the Government to stop this practice because it has been happening ever since the advent of the land reform when ordinary black farmers ventured into this sector, which for decades, had been mystified and regarded as a preserve for white commercial farmers only. Our farmers need protection from this unfair practice.

The economy is under siege and the tobacco sector is one of the biggest foreign currency earner for new farmers and rural Zimbabweans who are battling to make ends meet under the backdrop of devastating and diabolic illegal sanctions that have been torturing the country for the last decade.

At least 185 million kilogrammes of tobacco are expected to go under the hammer this season, up from the 166,6 million kg sold last year and we hope the farmers are going to earn over US$600 000 cumulatively compared to last season. The tobacco sector has become one of the most effective empowerment tools for previously disadvantaged Zimbabweans, who can now independently implement their development programmes unlike in other countries where people rely on Western aid that normally comes with strings attached.

This therefore calls for our agronomists countrywide to do massive research in other provinces that were shunned by former farmers to establish if new tobacco varieties, that are being developed, do not do well in those areas so that all Zimbabweans enjoy the fruits of the land reform form programme.

If the farmers could receive up to US4.85 for lower leaves that are normally of poor grade, then prospects are huge that this year that they might earn more than the maximum price of US$5 offered at auction floors last selling season.

The Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board should be commended for licensing over 20 auction floor buyers this season, compared to 15 last year and we are optimistic that farmers will get quality services as the players compete for customers.

The board also licensed 15 contractors with Mashonaland Tobacco Company, the country’s biggest contractor, licensed to buy the crop from Karoi, Mvurwi and Rusape, bringing the market closer to farmers who have been fleeced of huge amounts of money by transporters.

We would like more companies to be licensed to buy tobacco in smaller towns in the future so that they also benefit the downstream industries with the proceeds of the crop. We also want the tobacco companies operating in smaller towns to engage in corporate social responsibility and develop the areas they are tapping the lucrative crop.

There are poor roads in most districts, hospitals do not have drugs, while deforestation is threatening to turn areas into deserts and these areas that need support from tobacco companies.

We also challenge huge players in the farming sector such as fertiliser, chemicals and seed companies to establish distribution points in smaller towns to ensure the inputs are accessed at reasonable prices to reduce operating costs for farmers.

Planning is key in all businesses and we implore new farmers to ensure they immediately buy farming inputs as soon as they receive their money to avoid ad hoc planning that has cost some in the past.

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