THE 2011-2012 tobacco agricultural season has begun in earnest with farmers busy sowing their seeds. June 1 was the official start date for farmers intending to plant their tobacco under irrigation. September 1 is the official date for transplanting while September 15 is the last official date for seedbed preparation and farmers are expected to have sown their seeds. Several farmers interviewed said they had sown their seeds and intend to increase the number of plants with time. “I am looking forward to cultivating four hectares of tobacco this season, but I appeal to buyers to fix a stable and fair price, at least US$4 per kilogramme is reasonable,” said Brighton Chileshe, a farmer in Banket. Other farmers who spoke to The Patriot said they were disappointed with last season’s price, but optimistic of better prices next season. Whisky Musuzandare of Karoi said he was contemplating cultivating other crops since he failed to make a profit from tobacco yields in the 2010-2011 agricultural season. “I cannot buy any fertilisers, pesticides and seeds for next season because the money I got last season cannot sustain me,” said Musazandare. More farmers who were at Boka Tobacco Auction Floors said their faith in cultivating tobacco was dampened by the low prices offered for their crop. Despite the outcry by some farmers, others emphasised that the key to attaining good prices for the golden leaf was quality. “I am looking forward to increasing to three hectares from the one-and-half hectares because I was offered a reasonable price this season,’’ said Sarudzai Bayamombe from Hilltop Farm in Karoi. Boka Tobacco Auction Floors public relations manager Alex Vokoto said his company was embarking on an outreach programme to teach farmers what was expected of them before delivering their tobacco to the auction floors. He reiterated the need for farmers to register with the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) and make prior bookings before coming to the auction floors. This, he said, would reduce congestion and long queues. “We expect more farmers next season since this season farmers left smiling because buyers offered reasonable prices to farmers who had quality tobacco,” said Vokoto. “Today, the buyers were buying the golden leaf at US$4,70 per kilogramme.” Efforts to get details from TIMB on the number of registered farmers for the 2011/2012 agricultural season were fruitless. Last season’s statistics showed that there were over 60 000 tobacco farmers countrywide. In a related development, the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union (ZFU) is in three weeks expected to host a tobacco conference which seeks to spell out key issues affecting all tobacco stakeholders. ZFU is a farmer organisation which represents mostly smallholder farmers from all the country’s provinces and assists them to effectively grow and market their produce to different markets. The executive director of the organisation, Paul Zakariya, said the tobacco conference would bring together all stakeholders in order to have a clearer position on tobacco farmers’ needs. “The tobacco conference whose logistics we are still working on will bring together producers and organisations representing tobacco farmers so that we can be able to come up with one position as far as tobacco issues are concerned,” he said. “We have noticed that most tobacco organisations which include ZFU, Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union (ZCFU), Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) and others have the same concerns which are articulated differently. “We can never be taken seriously if we are not united; so this conference hopes to come up with one position so that we speak with one voice.” Zakariya said whatever key issues were raised at the conference would be used to bargain for tobacco farmers. “We would want to have one tobacco representative, we know this is not possible at the moment but we hope in future it will be possible.” Growers, said Zakariya, must be trained on how to handle the crop from the farm right to the time it reaches the market. “They must learn how to enhance their crop’s quality so that it is not rejected because it has been poorly handled,” he said.