TOBACCO farmers in Zimbabwe continue to suffer as tobacco companies are now taking advantage of the lockdown restrictions buying the crop at low prices as farmers are denied access to the auction floors during buying sessions.
By Tobacco Farmers Union of Zimbabwe
Companies are paying close to nothing for high-quality tobacco, and this worsens the suffering of farmers who are already left with nothing after their sales due to the diabolic government fixed 25% exchange rate.
Farmers are disappointed by government which has turned a blind eye on the farmers by ignoring their plea to the Finance ministry to raise the fixed exchange rate which is currently stagnant at US $1:25 real time gross settlement (RTGS), yet the same dollar on the parallel market is trading at US$1:80 RTGS.
Farmers are complaining about the prices offered by companies buying at auction floors saying it’s daylight robbery considering the time and labour required by the crop. They are being stabbed by a double-edged sword by the government and the companies working together to make them poorer.
Farmers are also questioning the role of Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB), which has over the years turned from referee to player as it is also contracting farmers and buying tobacco, making the prices that it sets biased, meant to benefit it more. TIMB officials’ friends and relatives, who own bogus contracting companies, are benefiting more from tobacco farmers’ sweat as they are making more profits from the crop than the producers.
The government should push all auction floors to put in place measures that allow the presence of farmers in auction floors during buying sessions so that their right to cancel and withdraw their bales if not happy with the prices is maintained. The union is on high alert watching activities at auction floors through its representatives, and at the end of the process we will expose and shame those companies and individuals who are stealing from and taking advantage of tobacco farmers.
We call upon TIMB to address the issue of late payments by auction floors as a matter of urgency. A number of auction floors are taking time to fund farmers accounts, some accounts go for two to three weeks without being funded and if the farmers approach their banks they are told to go back where they sold their tobacco.
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These auction floors are spinning farmers’ forex on the black market, resulting in delays in payments forcing farmers to sleep at auction floors exposed to the cold and the risk of catching COVID-19.
Tobacco farmers are always on the losing side and this will see a decrease in tobacco production next season as farmers are losing hope.