A CURSORY view of the armed police officer and two security guards paints a picture of a fortified area. But the emptiness in the huge white tent pitched at one end tells a different story.
It is Friday night and farmers are loitering while others are in deep thought, perhaps hoping for a better trading day at Boka Tobacco Auction floors the following day.
With their luggage and groceries close to them, some choose to retire for the night on the verandah along the auction floor entrance.
Also seen outside are cash-rich farmers loading groceries into a small truck before driving away to their homes.
They sing and dance leaving some remaining farmers green with envy. This yearâ€™s tobacco marketing season was not spared from the perennial delays, but the selling of the cash crop in hard currency was irresistible for farmers.
â€œThere are no lighting and ablution facilities here, so we would rather spend the night on the stoep than sleep in that tent,â€ said a Karoi communal farmer who spoke to the Zimbabwe Independent.
She was annoyed by the situation that she has to endure.
â€œBefore the start of the marketing season radio advertisements announced that we would get our payments within a day but for me it is now over a week without getting any payment. They normally start paying us at 10am and finish just after lunch, save for a few days when they get to 5 oâ€™clock in the evening.â€
Under the official payment arrangement, farmers are paid US$1 500 in cash for tobacco deliveries with the balance, if any, being deposited into their foreign currency accounts.
The evidently poor quality of the tobacco delivered at the auction floors could be a result of the shortages of fertilisers that were experienced last season. Resultantly the unattractive rates paid for the deliveries could signal a gloomy season ahead owing to lack of funding.
Poor grade tobacco, according to the farmers, is being bought at US$1 per kilogramme while a high-grade flue cured kilogramme is attracting up to US$5 from the bidders.
Farmers who spoke to the Independent said payment delays resulting from cash shortages were forcing them to buy impulsely.
After getting payments for deliveries, they hurriedly buy imported blankets, boxes of laundry soap and cooking oil with only a handful buying seed for the next season at inflated prices.
Notwithstanding the removal of government subsidies on farming inputs, farmers, however, remain hopeful that they could either raise enough funds for ploughing or get contracted to grow the cash crop next season. Â
The farmers added that despite the payment delays, they dread walking around Harareâ€™s central business district with â€œbig bucksâ€ in their pockets.
â€œAfter spending many days at the auction floors, they have become my second home. So I would rather buy groceries from traders who come here than buy groceries worth US$1 000 in town,â€ said another farmer staring at a banner advertising generators, hanging close to the auction floor entrance.
He claimed that last week was the second week for him waiting for his payment for bales delivered to Zitec â€” one of the three tobacco auction floors in the country.
For the auction floors itâ€™s just over a month of buying the golden leaf from the farmers since opening last month.
Zimbabwe Tobacco Association president Andrew Ferreira said delays at the auctions could have resulted from the early sales, adding that no payment should extend beyond a week.
â€œFrom my perspective, deliveries are going alright. What is happening is that there is congestion at the floors,â€ Ferreira said. â€œTo say farmers are being delayed for a week or two is an exaggeration.â€Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
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Asked why there were delays in paying farmers, ZB Bank chief economist Best Doroh said: â€œThat is a reflection of foreign currency shortages on the market. There could be a mismatch arising from the high volume of farmers selling their tobacco and the hard currency in circulation.â€
Aware of the hunger pangs that come after a long day of waiting for the elusive greenback, Nestar Makura, of Waterfalls has seized the business opportunity. After knocking off at five, Makura â€” a tailor by training â€” drives her white Datsun 120Y the auction floors together with her nine-year-old son Tapiwa who assists her with the catering services.
â€œThis is my first time embarking on such a business and Iâ€™m really impressed with the way the business is going,â€ Makura said. She has no monopoly of her new business but seeing her food being sold in less than an hour is enough to bring a smile to her face.
â€œI think the secret to my success is the perfection I put to my work. I interact with them and sometimes I advise them on where to get cheaper goods in town,â€ she said.
Despite all the risks associated with her business, for now she is assured that her US$1 meals will be sold out until end of August when the auction floors are scheduled to close. Â
BY BERNARD MPOFU