The Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB), has relaxed part of the stringent conditions for tobacco marketing this year that were adopted to prevent and minimise the spread of Covid-19.

However, one of the farmers’ main bone of contention, the fixed exchange and the forex retention threshold, were not immediately resolved, as the request had been submitted to Reserve Bank.

This comes after the central bank, as part of broad measures to cushions the economy, pegged the rate at $25 against the US dollar to ensure stability and certainty of pricing following the outbreak of Covid-19.

The tobacco selling season started on April 27 after being delayed by nearly a week as authorities pondered on ways to make sure sales could still progress with no or limited risk of Covid-19.

TIMB chief executive Andrew Matibiri, said the adjusted conditions were adopted at a meeting held last week to review compliance with industry guidelines on Covid-19 preventive measures.

Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union (ZCFU) president Shadreck Makombe, said he was happy that some of the concerns had been addressed, which showed efforts to resolve farmers’ issues.

“What has happened is that at least there is acknowledgement of the issues raised by farmers and some effort has been made to address the issues,” he said.

He said what was not pleasing though was that the matter of fixed exchange rate had not been resolved yet and payments made to farmers in local currency would be prone to negative effects of rising inflation.

Mr Makombe also applauded the restoration of the provision for banks to be allowed to put in place banking facilities at the floors saying farmers can have any queries addressed on site before leaving for their homes.

And on the issue of the exchange rate he said “the effect of the exchange rate has been noted and appeals have been forwarded to authorities”.

Farmers have been pushing for either floating exchange rate or payment of a revised and higher forex retention threshold, of about 75 percent in hard currency, to cushion them from inflation.   

But firm positions have been reached on adjustments to conditions related to delivery and bookings, banking facilities, delivery transport, grower representatives at sales, screening and testing of employees for Covid-19.

Previously, banking facilities were not allowed at any tobacco floor, but subject to ensuring all health and safety conditions for Covid-19, banks may operate help desks for services like enquiries, account opening and card replacement.

TIMB has allowed transportation of tobacco to auction floors using vehicles with capacity of less than 7 tonnes, but this will only be allowed for deliveries outside Harare.

Prior to the latest adjustments, there was a blanket requirement that all vehicles carrying tobacco to the floors, which still have to be registered with TIMB, had to be of 7 tonne capacity or above.

“But, please not that all other preventive measures, such as maximum of 2 occupants per truck, will continue to be applied across the industry in this regard,” Dr Matibiri said.

A farmer with more than 100 bales will be allowed to witness the sale of the tobacco and representatives of absent farmers do not need to register with TIMB.

But growers with less than 100 bales per sale still cannot witness the sales, as part of measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

In terms of delivery and booking, TIMB said booking times had been extended to 8am each day, but no longer were any restrictions on deliveries, which had previously been limited to only three for the season.

“However, no delivery vehicles or their occupants may stay at the floors overnight,” Dr Matibiri said in a statement dated, May 8, 2020, which was sent to all tobacco industry stakeholders.

TIMB said owing to challenges of testing kits, stakeholders will be allowed to religiously abide by requirements for enforcing preventive practices like social distancing, hand washing and sanitising, fumigation of premises and wearing masks in work places.

Tobacco is a strategically important crop in Zimbabwe, as it sustains more than 100 000 mostly black indigenous farmers and earns the country nearly a billion United States dollars annually.

Although negatively impacted by inconsistent rains this season, Zimbabwe is projected to register only a 20 percent decline in deliveries, after hitting an all time high of 258 million kilogrammes last year.