Obert Chifamba Agri Insights
The 2017 tobacco marketing season starts on 15 March.A total of 82 305 farmers have registered with the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) to be growers for the 2016/17 season. And all things being equal, this is the number expected to be making deliveries of the golden leaf to the floors.

Of the 82 305 registered farmers, 14 952 are making their debut in the industry and this is quite a big number. TIMB has licensed three auction floors- Boka Tobacco Floors, Tobacco Sales Floors and Premier Tobacco Floors while 19 buyers have also been registered.

I guess the announcement of the date on which the tobacco marketing season will start has provoked a lot of excitement among the farmers, as the countdown to the big day begins.

This means that farmers should have already submitted their yield estimates to TIMB for planning purposes. TIMB will need to furnish buyers with such information so that they (buyers) do their budgets with those yield estimates in mind.

The next thing is to book in their tobacco ahead of delivery so that both TIMB, the floors and the buyers will be aware of the numbers of farmers coming and the probable quantities of the golden leaf to expect.

Banks also need to have that information so that there is cash available for the farmers after they complete their transactions.

Of course TIMB’s system will cater for all farmers including the non-booked but the slight glitch in the flow of the process is not anything any farmer would enjoy even if it is their responsibility to have followed the required procedures.

The chaos and long queues that have become typical with the opening of the tobacco marketing season every year were in most cases traceable to the farmers’ lack of organisation, as they would come to the floors without having given notice to service providers, which caught them unprepared to handle the volumes at once.

At this point we also expect the true tobacco farmer to have organised reliable transport for his produce to the floors, as waiting for the last minute always comes with compromised service delivery. In a season like the 2016/17 in which rains are falling lavishly, it is not surprising that during the month of March the rains may still be at their peak, which makes it bad for farmers to transport their tobacco using vehicles that have no proper protection facilities such as tents or canopies.

Many farmers have in recent seasons lost tonnes of tobacco to rainy weather after being caught up in unexpected downpours. Some have had the misfortune of hiring fly-by-night transporters that dump them at the floors on arrival, which left the tobacco exposed to elements of weather. This naturally has a telling effect on the eventual quality of the product to be delivered.

Then there is the general issue of behaviour after selling the golden leaf and getting heftily rewarded. I don’t understand how farmers every year manage to fall to the same trick by fraudsters purporting to be sales agents or the sellers themselves of different things that the farmers so badly need and they part with huge sums of money only to realise they have been conned later.

Impulse buying is most tobacco farmers’ weakness. They meet a person claiming to be selling a truck parked outside the floors, they negotiate a price and pay without even seeing the registration papers of the vehicle before the seller disappears under the guise of going to collect the registration documents. They should learn to separate business dealings with pleasure and also seek advice from others.

It is quite disappointing to note that some farmers end up losing all their income to fraudsters or even thieves after getting reckless with the brown bottle and moving in isolated places especially at night. Some have even lost their lives after being savagely attacked by thieves, as in some cases they try to fight back and save their hard-earned money.

The problem of thieves aside, some farmers have also fallen prey to commercial sex workers who every season descend on the floors to hunt for fortunes. These ladies have actually perfected their art of deception that the unsuspecting farmers really feel they have found the love of their lives and relax to the point of even telling them how much they will be carrying in their wallets.

The sad thing is that some of the ladies now work in cahoots with thieves so they lure their victims to spots where they will be defenceless and easy to rob. Rule of thumb, farmers should just learn to be patient and if they can’t rein in the desire to spend, then they should buy inputs that are abundantly supplied at the floors, then return for luxury spending probably in the company of someone else they trust.

Most of the farmers are handling huge sums of money for the first time and this somehow gets into their heads and their senses of decorum immediately evaporate to pave way for a spending culture that they cannot sustain under their new environments.

All I am saying here is tobacco farmers need strict financial discipline so that they can independently finance their operations without seeking contractors that in some cases short-change them. Most of the farmers earn amounts that are enough to get them going in a fresh season but they deliberately throw caution to the wind the blow the money.

This season we expect more disciplined farmers that are organised and come to the floors with the sole purpose of selling their produce and getting an income, then later plan on how to use it fruitfully.