The recent disclosures by stakeholders that some buyers were buying tobacco at the auction floors cheaply, but get handsome rewards when the same crop is sold under contract sales is clear testimony that the regulator is sleeping on the wheels.
It is unfortunate that the buyers are cashing in taking advantage of the regulator, the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB), whose chairperson Monica Chinamasa is also a tobacco farmer.
Yet, TIMB has not taken any action against this kind of insider trading to the detriment of thousands of smallholder farmers dotted around the country.
Since the beginning of the marketing season, farmers have complained over low prices which they said would drive them off the tobacco fields.
At the official opening of the tobacco marketing season, farmers demonstrated against the low prices thereby disrupting the auctioning of the golden leaf. It must be noted that sales only resumed after a meeting was held involving buyers, farmers’ representatives and TIMB.
We believe that the auction floors are supposed to set the prices for contract sales notwithstanding that the latter now accounts for 70% of the tobacco.
Reports that farmers are getting, for instance, $1,50 per kg when the same crop can fetch up to $3 on contract sales means that farmers are being ripped off. Isn’t the buck stops with TIMB that has to ensure that the dual pricing system works?
We believe some of the farmers grow quality tobacco therefore it is these farmers that must be rewarded handsomely so that they maintain the pace.
TIMB must ensure that the price matrix in place does not disadvantage any stakeholder, farmers included. The last thing Zimbabwe needs is the death of auction floors for that would be the end of accountability.
It is regrettable that TIMB appears hamstrung as some of its board members have also benefited under the contract system while on the other hand they are supposed to regulate the tobacco industry. This brings their impartiality to question for they are both referees and players at the same time. Can anyone of these raise their finger against a contractor that has supported them throughout the years?
In this case government should holistically deal with the matter, and if need be revamp the tobacco industry for transparency purposes. There is no doubt that contractors rescued the tobacco sector from collapse. But that should not be used to ride roughshod over other stakeholders in the tobacco industry.
Tobacco is the largest foreign currency earner for the country and it has to be supported. Conversely, tobacco farming has attracted over 80 000 growers this year, ample testimony of its pulling power.
Hence, what the industry needs now is an efficient regulator to ensure that malpractices are eliminated before they cripple the industry anchoring the economy.
Sadly, it would seem that TIMB is not up to the task thereby inviting negative publicity over the low prices prevailing at the auction floors, which in many cases appears fixed by a cartel eager to take away the poor farmers’ rights.
Yet when TIMB chief executive officer Andrew Matibiri recently wrote to players indicating that the tobacco industry had of late been attracting negative publicity mainly over prices of tobacco, he failed to realise that his organisation was chasing the ball instead of being pro-active in responding to this negative publicity.
It is clear that Matibiri and TIMB must approach the revitalisation of the tobacco industry with an open mind, otherwise theirs would be another exercise in futility.
It is time farmers’ benefited from their sweat.