TOBACCO farmers in most parts of the country have reportedly withheld their crop, refusing to release the golden leaf to transporters to be sold at the auction floors in their absence.
BY RICHARD MUPONDE/SIMBARASHE SITHOLE
Transporters have also allegedly parked their vehicles in protest over meagre payments at auction floors, in local currency after incurring huge costs in foreign currency.
NewsDay is reliably informed that as a result, the auction floors are selling a paltry 500 bales of tobacco per day instead of 3 500 bales on peak days.
The tobacco selling season opened a fortnight ago and due to the COVID-19 lockdown, farmers are not allowed to visit the auction floors, but surrender their crop to transporters to be sold in their absence.
Tobacco Transporters Association of Zimbabwe representative Rutendo Sande yesterday confirmed the standoff.
“The message got to farmers late,” Sande said.
“Most of the farmers are holding onto their crop, refusing to hand it over to transporters so that it can be sold in their absence.
“This has reduced the supply of the tobacco to the auction floors. Auction floors usually sell 3 500 bales per day, but most are selling 500 bales.”
He said transporters had also parked their vehicles because they could not sustain operational costs.
“For instance, if you are a new transporter, you need $3 700 to acquire a permit from Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB). After that, one has to buy a bailing box which costs US$350 each.
“If you have a bigger truck, one needs two bailing boxes. On top of that, they use foreign currency to fuel their trucks, adding to other ancillary costs. When they get to the auction floors, they are paid 25% in local currency.”
Sande said some auction floors were refusing to have the crop ferried by private players, but registered companies charging parallel market rates.
“We are appealing to government to intervene and solve the issue,” Sande said.
The transporters also lamented the delay in payment for the delivered crop, taking about four days, leaving them incurring costs while waiting to get vouchers of sale to farmers in the rural areas.
Both Agriculture minister Perrance Shiri and TIMB chief executive Andrew Matibiri were not reachable for comment yesterday.
Meanwhile, a tobacco company, Voedsel, has introduced strict screening of farmers for COVID-19 at its Mvurwi depot.
The company has established an isolation centre for COVID-19 symptomatic clients to be quarantined, apart from providing respiratory masks and a sanitisation booth.
Sydney Siriro, Voedsel floor manager, said they were following all health tips by government to safeguard their clients from the deadly pandemic.
Government was forced to decentralise the auctioning of tobacco this year to avoid the spread of COVID-19, which has so far killed over 295 000 globally, infecting over 4,3 million.
Tobacco is the country’s biggest foreign currency earner, raking in an average of US$1 billion annually.