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Audio: Angry farmers disrupt tobacco auctioning

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The 2015 tobacco marketing season kicked off on a disastrous note yesterday after disgruntled farmers stopped the selling process of the golden leaf protesting over low prices.

AUNS

The situation was prevalent at all the auction floors — Tobacco Sales Floor, Boka Tobacco Auction Floor (BTAF) and Premier Tobacco Auction Floor.

Auctioning resumed after nearly two hours following interventions by the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) who engaged farmers.
Farmers have in the past complained over low prices which they say deters tobacco output.

Listening to the farmers’ complaints here:

The situation was no different yesterday despite TIMB chairperson Monica Chinamasa imploring buyers to offer competitive prices.

Addressing guests at the official opening of the selling season at BTAF, Chinamasa said the maximum cap of $4,99 that has been prevailing at auction floors was not conducive for tobacco growing.

Tobacco prices shrunk to as low as US 0.6 cents.
Tobacco prices shrunk to as low as US 0.6 cents.

“My question to the buyers is that: Does it mean that auction tobacco cannot fetch a price higher than $4,99, while at contract sales, prices as high as $6,20 per kg were witnessed in 2014?” she queried.

When auctioning began, farmers raised objections on the prices.

They began chanting revolutionary songs from the liberation war days denouncing the buyers for “colluding” to offer low prices.

Tobacco farmers demonstrate  at the Boka tobacco auction floors over low tobacco prices.
Tobacco farmers demonstrate at the Boka tobacco auction floors over low tobacco prices.

Singing Hatichada Kunyengerera (We will not bend to anyone), the farmers drowned proceedings and security officers had to move them out of the auction floor.

The farmers assembled outside where they denounced TIMB and the buyers for working against the growth of the industry.

They were later allowed in after producing growers’ identification cards, a screening process to weed out non-farmers, amid allegations some of them were a rented mob whose intention had not been established.

Farmers who spoke to NewsDay said the prices were too low and would result in growers incurring losses.

“I spent nine months working on the crop only to be rewarded with a price of $0,60 per kg. This is not fair,” a woman from Chikomba said.

Berison Mutemeri from Banket said the issue of low prices had been perennial and the regulator was failing to resolve the matter.

“Every year, we complain of low prices, but TIMB is not doing anything. This year, the situation is tough for farmers after the introduction of a levy to aid the reforestation programme,” he said.

Government recently introduced a levy of 1,5% per kg to raise money for reforestation.

An executive with TIMB said the impassé had been caused by higher expectations from farmers, blaming it on new growers.

“There was lack of marketing information and as TIMB, we have to improve on that,” he said.

BTAF chief executive officer Rudo Boka said her auction company had no influence on prices, but rather an exchange where buyers and sellers meet.
She said farmers not happy with the price had to follow the rules and wait for the arbitration process.

“We have an issue of willing buyer-willing seller. If you present something that the market is not interested in, prices will be low. I challenge the protester to go for arbitration,” Boka said.

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