Friday, April 23, 2010

(HERALD) Farmers cry foul

Farmers cry foul
Herald Reporters

SOME dealers are taking advantage of farmers bringing improperly graded tobacco to the auction floors by offering to buy the crop at low prices before reselling after grading it.

Farmers are losing thousands of United States dollars to the dealers because they cannot afford to take the crop back to the farm for proper grading. According to reports from one of the floors, Zimbabwe Tobacco Auction Centre, the farmers sell their improperly graded crop to the middlemen at low prices.

The middlemen grade the crop properly and then sell it at the market price on the floors.

The farmers would have spent days camped at the auction floors when the middlemen approach them and offer a quick cash sale.

The affected farmers have been selling their tobacco for as little as US20 cents per kg.

Some of the farmers are now hiring private contractors to regrade the tobacco. Private contractors are charging US25c per kg for re-grading.

"After my tobacco had been affected, I was charged US25c per kg by a contractor whom I suspect is working in cahoots with the buyers," said Mr Trust Mhlalinayo of Karoi.

Mr Ephraim Kaitano of Chiweshe said the Government should ensure on site monitors were present to stop middlemen from ripping them off.

"The weighing system leaves a lot to be desired because it is mostly being done in our absence. After processing and weighing my tobacco back in the village, it was averaging 100kg but when I brought it here it had fallen to 40kg. After that I re-weighed it and was still at 100kg. I asked them and was told that scales differ and that my tobacco was of poor quality despite the fact that it got bad here at the floors," he said.

Other farmers claimed their bales were disappearing.

"I delivered six bales, but on the list only four bales are recorded. There is no explanation on what happened to the other two bales yet they were in the same place," said Mrs Betty Gama.

More than 20 farmers had the same complaints.

Meanwhile, the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board is advising tobacco farmers to stop deliveries at auction floors and start booking in advance to reduce congestion.

Mr Meanwell Gudu, the company’s acting chief executive officer, yesterday said tobacco growers should book and deliver on a first come, first serve basis.

He said the practice of delivering today and selling tomorrow would continue at all auction floors.

"We are trying to reduce congestion and waiting periods because farmers are spending a long time at the auction floors," he said.

He said they had capacity to clear only 15 000 bales a day at the two auction floors.

"Booking is now essential and the solution is to have grower numbers by 31 October every year," Mr Gudu said.

This would enable farmers to receive their numbers and use them to book in advance.

The decision by TIMB is in response to growers’ concerns over the time they spend waiting for their tobacco to be processed and subsequently get paid.

Some farmers have been spending up to a week at the auction floors struggling to sell their crop.

Mr Honest Matashu said he arrived at Zitac on Sunday last week, but by yesterday he was yet to be served.

"We are losing a lot of money to food vendors while waiting for our turn. We were here the whole holiday and up to now we have not been served," he said.

Most farmers said if Government did not intervene, they would be forced to quit tobacco farming as the prices they were getting were no longer commensurate with the investments they made.

They said they could not realise any profits owing to the current prices of US$3 per kg for the best grade tobacco.

The farmers said buyers were trying to push them out of business by offering low prices than those offered in February.

At the beginning of the marketing season, the average price was US$3,50 per kg. The price went down to a record US20c before President Mugabe’s intervention, which saw the price rising to an average US$5 for best grade.

The farmers’ joy was; however, short-lived as they dropped again to US50cents soon after the President had left the auction floors.

"With the current prices being offered, I am no longer interested in tobacco farming. Imagine with my six bales I failed to get US$1 000 yet I have inputs, transport and labour costs to cater for among other costs. It is better to grow cotton, which is not paying much but at least you do not wait for long periods," said Mrs Fiona Tsangira of Hurungwe.

However, Mr Gudu yesterday defended the pricing system saying it was in line with international standards especially in Brazil, the world’s largest tobacco producer.

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