Elita Chikwati–Senior Agriculture Reporter
The 2022 tobacco selling season officially opened yesterday with Government calling for discipline among actors in the industry to eliminate farmer deprivation by middlemen while enhancing transparency and fairness in contract and auction sales.
Sales were conducted at the Tobacco Sales Floors (TSF) and Premier Tobacco Floors (PTF) while Boka Tobacco Floors (BTF) will open on Monday to pave way for the road construction works adjacent to the premises.
The official opening was held at the TSF were the auctioning of the first able was witnessed by Lands, Agricultures, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Minister Anxious Masuka.
The first bale fetched US$4,20 per kg which is lower than the US$4,30 per kg fetched by the first bale last year.
Farmers said they expected prices to improve as the season progresses.
Contract sales are expected to start today. This year farmers are getting 75 percent of their payments in foreign currency and the funds are being treated as free funds. Government has urged the merchants to do their part by paying fair prices for this tobacco.
This year marks three years of the selling season in which tobacco sales have been conducted under strict guidelines in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Officially opening the 2022 tobacco marketing season yesterday, Minister Masuka said Government had its eyes on the role of tobacco in uplifting livelihoods in line with Vision 2030, and for the much-needed foreign currency that the crop brings to the country.
“As the Minister responsible for this subsector, my gaze, and mind, are fixed on the entire value chain — on fairness, on ethics and probity, on transparency, on accountability, on discipline, on equity and on sustainability.
“Through the Tobacco Transformation Plan (TTP), we will build this industry ‘Brick by brick and stone upon stone’ to a US$5 billion industry by 2025,” he said.
Government approved the TTP last year to increase production to 300 million kg annually of good quality styles desired by the international market, increase productivity to 2000kg/ha, through vertical growth and loss reduction, to increase value addition and beneficiation to 30 percent of the crop by 2025 from the current 2 percent, and to localize the financing of tobacco by injecting seed funds of at least US$ 60 million among other things.
Buyers have also been warned against offering higher prices at contract sales compared to auction sales for similar grade and collusion by merchants and manoeuvres by middlemen to re-handle tobacco bought cheaply from farmers,
“I am recommending the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) inspectorate unit to continue to work with other security agencies to eliminate these vices. Discipline must return to this important industry. Contractors should provide the prescribed minimum support package for both smallholder and commercial farmers and farmers must repay this support through delivery of the crop to contractors while avoiding side-marketing,” he said.
TIMB vice chairperson Mrs Nomusa Dube applauded smallholder farmers for contributing greatly to the volumes and quality of tobacco produced in Zimbabwe.
“Some 133 million kg of the 211 million kilogrammes sold in the 2021 marketing season came from small holder farmers. They are our economic heroes and we applied their dedication.
“Concerns have been raised with regards to growers facing viability challenges because of increased cost of production.
“Authorities are working on better alternative sources of funding to improve viability of tobacco growers,” she said.
Tobacco Association of Zimbabwe (TAZ) president, Mr George Seremwe said farmers were expecting much higher prices than what was offered on the first day.
“Farmers are expecting a bit higher price than what is being offered at the moment. We are expecting an improvement,” he said.
Zimbabwe National Farmers Union president Mrs Monica Chinamasa said the quality of the crop brought by farmers on the first day was good.
She said the first bale could have fetched a higher price because of its quality, colour and size of leaf.
Mrs Chinamasa called for investment in irrigation facilities to help farmers during dry times.
“We urge Government to invest more in irrigation facilities so small scale farmers can make use of water bodies available to increase production. Irrigation is the way to go,” she said.
Mvurwi farmer Ms Nyasha Ndoro said she was happy with the prices being offered on the first day.
“If prices continue like this, it will be a good season, we hope prices will continue firming,” she said