The 2017 tobacco marketing season started yesterday on the auction floors and only commences today on the contract floors, and this is for a reason.
The reason for the contract floors starting a day later is the price matrix which is generated on the auction floors.
The average price for a grade on the auction floors determines the minimum price for the same grade on the contract floors.
Simply put, prices on the auction floors determine the minimum prices that can be offered per grade on the contract floors.
Consequently, because prices on the auction floors determine prices on the contract floors, it is important for TIMB to get it right on the auction floors.
Hence, it is imperative to roll an out e-marketing system on the auction floors first and on the contract floors during the course of the marketing season.
In 2004, tobacco produced under auction was three times more than tobacco produced under contract.
This trend was gradually reversed with contract tobacco selling four times what is sold on the auction system.
The mandate of the TIMB is to ensure growth of the industry hence our approach as an Industry has been to focus more on small scale and communal farmers so as to try and improve their productivity.
This is the reason why TIMB is giving drip irrigation facilities and rocket barn equipment to small scale and communal farmers.
The aim is to maintain a dual marketing system and not having one side dying a natural death.
Most first time growers of tobacco sell their crop on the auction floors. If we allow the auction system to die, growing tobacco will become difficult for people who want to enter the industry.
The e-marketing system will reduce the time spend at the auction floors for over 30 000 farmers registered to sell their tobacco under the auction system thereby reducing congestion and promoting orderly marketing.
Once a sale is concluded, there will not be need for someone to go around the auction or contract floor picking up bale tickets which will be heaped somewhere before people enter them into the system before sales sheets can be printed and payments made.
Ticket tampering among other illicit floor activities were giving buyers and contractors a nightmare and fortunately the electronic system is going to address these challenges.
Sleeping on floors is largely a problem at auction floors more than it is at contract floors as a significant number of large scale contracted growers do not wait to see how much their tobacco would have fetched.
The e-marketing system comes to try and proffer solutions to the aforementioned problems whilst we try and come up with remedies for other challenges faced by the industry since we cannot have a one fit all solution.
Typhoid is a serious reality and we do not want farmers to stay longer than necessary at the selling floors.
The only function of the e-marketing Hand Held Technology (HHT) that works solely on the auction floors is the bidding aspect whilst the rest are designed for dual marketing of tobacco.
The second phase of the electronic marketing system will reduce side marketing which mainly affects the contract system.
Bales will be electronically tagged using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags with farmers’ grower and lot numbers thereby bringing important aspect of traceability right from the farm.
Side marketing, illegal sales and theft of tobacco are aspects that will be handled with RFID tags.
Contractors were trained on how the electronic marketing system operates and have also raised issues on what they want improved on it because it will soon be rolled out to contract floors hence saying e-marketing is only for auction is a merely a figment of imagination.
Another benefit to be derived from the e-marketing is that Tobacco buyers will receive real-time data as the selling process happens and will therefore be able to tally bales when they reach the dispatch section of the sales floor.
TIMB will also be able to monitor the sale process and this on its own will make the whole process more transparent as well as eliminate manipulation of data.
Sales data will also be relayed in real-time to stakeholders, which is in contrast to the previous setup where data would be uploaded to TIMB systems at the end of the day.
Tobacco growers and casual observers will also be able to witness live selling processes on screens conveniently located at various places at the sale points.
Other functions of the system include scanning of tickets, real time transferring of data to TIMB servers, allowing monitoring of processes over the internet, classification and arbitration done in the system and can be analysed, enabling fast processing of payment as sales sheets are printed soon after a sale is conducted thereby enabling payment to be done soon afterwards to farmers, to mention but a few.
The e-marketing system came as a result of wide consultation with Industry stakeholders and its arrival has been met by positive responses from stakeholders and farmers who attended mock sales.
The e-marketing system will bring efficiency to both the auction and contract system.
For the Luddite and cartels of unscrupulous buyers, the e-marketing system is tried and tested technology used in India and its benefits far outweigh the perceived disadvantages hence it is here to stay, and will cover the dual marketing of tobacco in Zimbabwe.