Tobacco farmers yesterday urged Government and the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) to protect them from cartels that are fleecing farmers at auction floors.
The farmers claim that some auction floors were rejecting their crop purportedly for poor quality only for the same crop to be bought by “buyers” conveniently stationed outside the auction floors.
It is believed that the rejected tobacco, which is often sold by farmers for as low as $1 to $2 per kilogramme, will eventually be sold by the buyers above $4 per kilogramme at the same auction floors.
While the disturbing trend has been observed in Harare, wary Rusape farmers are now holding on to their crop in protest against low prices.
In an interview with The Herald, Tobacco Association of Zimbabwe (TAZ) president Mr David Guy Mutasa said desperate farmers were left with nowhere to turn to as TIMB – the industry regulator – was now contracting tobacco farmers, which makes it conflicted.
“Tobacco farmers are frustrated and disappointed with what is happening at the auction floors, which have been invaded by cartels. These cartels are loaded with cash – both US dollars and bond notes – waiting to buy the rejected tobacco, which they will resell at the same auction floors,” said Mr Mutasa.
“We suspect there is connivance between auction floors and these people. Desperate farmers are left with no option but to sell their crop for a song to people who will resell for a fortune.
“There is no cash at the banks and these people are taking advantage of that.
“Farmers are feeling let down by the regulatory body, TIMB, which has gone into contract farming. It should remain as the regulator, but now it is the referee and player at the same time. “Farmers feel vulnerable and exposed as they have nowhere to turn to,” he said.
TIMB chief executive officer Dr Andrew Matibiri, however, said the organisation is just an arm of Government that is funding the production of quality tobacco only.
“We are not contracting anyone. We do not buy tobacco. TIMB got money from Government to support farmers and it ended there. We are getting another $70 million next year for the same purpose so farmers must not worry; they must be happy that we are assisting them produce quality tobacco that even fetches better prices,” said Dr Matibiri.
Few tobacco farmers were delivering their crop to auction floors in Rusape yesterday.