BY FIDELITY MHLANGA
THE Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union (ZCFU) has thrown its weight behind an aggressive blitz by the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) aimed at exposing rogue middlemen who have been fleecing desperate communal farmers of their money.
Middlemen at the heart of the blossoming illegal trade in tobacco are said to be travelling to farms offering extremely low prices to producers who they promise immediate payment.
Reports say the middlemen have been working with some officers at tobacco auction floors who help them sell the golden leaf at huge margins.
The bulk of Zimbabwe’s tobacco is being produced by poorly funded small-scale communal farmers who desperately need cash for their day-to-day needs and are easily tempted by prospects of prompt cash payments.
However, over 95% of the tobacco that they sell through a practice called “side marketing” would have been grown under contract with registered financiers.
ZCFU president Shadreck Makombe told NewsDay Business that punishing side marketers would bring sanity to the tobacco sector.
“We are quite happy about this initiative by TIMB,” Makombe said.
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“As we do away with side marketing we are bringing in business ethics. We are now conducting business on professional grounds, which is a good development. Even investors will start to have confidence when they want to invest their money. They know that it is secure,” Makombe said.
“This initiative is noble. We are encouraging farmers not to be enticed by unscrupulous buyers. If they continuously get arrested and sanctioned in such a manner, side marketing can be limited and probably completely eliminated,” he added.
TIMB unveiled the blitz recently, saying it had already netted and fined 85 rogue dealers.
A senior TIMB official said the blitz was part of continuing efforts to weed out bogus tobacco traders.
“For the 2021 tobacco marketing season, the TIMB has embarked on an exercise to name and shame illegal buyers and sellers of tobacco,” TIMB spokesperson Chelesani Moyo said.
“The aim of this exercise is to discourage repeat offending and deter would-be illegal buyers and sellers. So far 85 illegal buyers and sellers have been fined.”Follow Fidelity on Twitter @FidelityMhlanga