HomeBusiness DigestThe good times roll again for tobacco farmers

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WHEN acting Agriculture, Farm Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Ignatius Chombo officially opened the 2010 tobacco selling season on Tuesday praising the quality and taste of the Zimbabwean leaf, he must have forgotten to say tobacco farming was now one of the best paying professions in the country after all expenses are deducted.

“Our foreign and local buyers should realise that our tobacco is well known for its good quality and taste, which is unparalleled in comparison to the crop from other tobacco growing countries such as Brazil and Malawi.”

“If it were whisky, it would be equal to the best Scottish whisky that there is,” he quipped.

Tobacco farmers will be smiling all the way to the bank after their payout was raised to US$2 000 on the stop from US$1 500 which was being paid last year. The balance would be deposited in the farmers’ accounts.

Observers said a repeat of last year when tobacco auction floors outside premises were turned into flee markets as enterprising businesspeople set up stalls to lure free spending tobacco farmers who were paid in hard currency was on the way.

In 2008 farmers spent weeks sleeping in the open hoping to get paid in the worthless local currency only to be paid using agro-cheques which were not accepted by shops.

A wide range of electrical gadgets such as generators, televisions, digital video players and clothing items are slowly finding their way to the auction floors to be sold to the impulse buying farmers.

The Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) on Tuesday refused to bow to farmers’ demands to have all their money being paid on the spot, arguing that they wanted to support local banks.

The auction floors are only opened on Tuesdays and Thursdays. TIMB said the current system of holding two sales per week would be reviewed once deliveries got to 3 800 bales per day.

However some analysts said the reason was because they wanted to control the farmers spending spree, which was similar to war veterans when they were given the then handsome figure of Z$50 000 each in 1997.

“If you look at the quality of tobacco that is on offer here, amounts paid to farmers and some of the prices that are being offered, we are definitely heading for a better season this year,” Chombo said.

“We might not have discovered oil in the Zambezi, but we have our soil and unique climate that enable us to grow cash crops such as tobacco which assist the country in a significant way,” he said.

Chombo said the early opening of the marketing season should help farmers, especially newly resettled ones, to plan for a bigger crop well in advance.

Farmers interviewed however said this year’s selling season was opened early because;

 

  • Tobacco seed beds are done in June, while the selling season traditionally started in May ending in August a situation which usually compromised preparations as they always failed to meet deadlines;
  • Some farmers are diverse and wanted to concentrate full time on a single crop. Most tobacco farmers are also into wheat and winter crops;
  • Early selling would enable farmers to repay debts as many said they failed to access loans from banks;
  • Those who access loans said an early opening would ensure that they would escape high interest rates prevailing at banks if they repaid early;
  • It is also alleged that some white farmers said they wanted to sell their crop before being relocated;
  • Contract tobacco farmers said early selling would enable them to apply for new loans on time; and
  • Many farmers do not have storage facilities for their tobacco.

Tobacco Growers’ Trust president Wilfanos Mashingaidze said the prices on offer where encouraging adding that he expected them to firm as the selling season progressed.

A total of 77 million kg of tobacco is expected to have been auctioned by the end of sales in June.

Prices opened at about US$4 per kg for the best grade which was lower than the top price of $5,50 per kg that farmers had expected remained largely unchanged yesterday.

When the auction floors opened a total of 288 bales were on offer at the Tobacco Sales Floors while about 200 bales were laid at the Zimbabwe Industry Tobacco Auction Centre.

TIMB chief executive Andrew Matibiri said he was optimistic that the target of 77 000 million kg would be achieved and that the prices on offer and payments would encourage farmers to grow more “quality crop”.

“This is encouraging given that these are just the primings, the lower leaf, that are coming onto the floors. We hope for better prices as the season progresses as the upper leaf starts coming in,” Matibiri said.

Matibiri said TIMB was also awaiting prices on offer when Brazilian markets open in the next week or two.
Brazil is the world’s largest tobacco grower while in Africa it is Malawi, whose floors are expected to open inthree months.

Paul Nyakazeya

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