Tobacco farmers plead with Govt over prices

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Agriculture Reporter

TOBACCO farmers say the prices being offered at the auction floors are not commensurate with the money and time they invest into the production of the crop. They have since called upon the Government to intervene in order to avert a possible snubbing of the crop in the forthcoming season. Farmers who spoke to The Patriot this week said they suspected there was a well-calculated move to sabotage them so that the country would not get the much-needed foreign currency critical for the revival of the economy. They said the prices being offered at the auction floors were ridiculously low. Investigations by this paper revealed that prices had drastically fallen in the past two weeks compared to the beginning of the tobacco selling season in February. At the beginning of the selling season the average price was US$4,50 per kilogramme amid expectations that the price would firm as the season progressed, but the prices have instead fallen to as low as US$0,50 per kilogramme, an amount farmers said would result in them pulling out of business. Statistics by the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) show that this year the number of registered tobacco growers surged to 60000 from last year’s 15 000 largely because of the profitable returns that seemed to be on offer. But the farmers argue the number is likely to drop because of the treatment they were getting from buyers at the auction floors. Pikitai Masuko (46) of Karoi, who last week put 13 bales of his crop under the hammer, was disgruntled over the prices being offered at the auction floors. “I am very disappointed that after putting so much money and effort to put the tobacco in the ground not only for my family but for the country as, I am being paid a paltry US$0,50 per kilogramme and they expect me to come back with the crop again next year,” he said. “Right now, I have stopped selling my other 15 bales until Government intervenes because there is no way I can just donate my tobacco after such suffering. I will return home and wait for things to improve before I auction the remaining bales.” Another farmer from Wedza, Cecilia Chitunhu, said Government must intervene as a matter of urgency so that farmers are cushioned from possible fraud by buyers at the auction floors. “Government must come in and help us so that whatever these buyers are doing will come to nothing because I suspect that they want to sabotage the new farmers so that the country continues to suffer,” she said. “We were given this land to produce for both ourselves and the country and this is exactly what we are doing but we are being sabotaged by enemies of the country who want to tell the whole world that black farmers have failed to produce on their land.” Zimbabwe Progressive Tobacco Farmers’ Union president Nicholas Kapungu said the prevailing prices at the floors were only serving to deter new farmers from growing tobacco next season. “We have a whole lot of experienced farmers in our union who have been farming tobacco for many years, but the prevailing prices are nothing short of sabotage,” said Kapungu. Last week, prices hovered between US$0,50 per kg and US$1,20 per kg, regardless of crop quality.

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