The 2019 tobacco marketing season opens in earnest on Wednesday next week, heralding another hectic period for stakeholders in industry, mainly the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB), 32 buyers, the 30 companies funding contract farming and the farmers.
Like previous selling seasons, indications on the ground do not point to a flawless marketing season due to a number of developments as a result of the Monetary Policy Statement announced on February 20 by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
There are a number of thorny issues and grey areas that need explanation on how rural farmers who lack proper information dissemination facilities are going to handle.
In the Monetary Policy Statement, RBZ Governor Dr John Mangudya announced that farmers will retain 30 percent of their foreign currency, a threshold that was later increased to 50 percent after negotiations with farmers’ representatives.
Less than a week before the marketing season opens, we feel there is no adequate information on how farmers will receive the 50 percent foreign currency given that there was no public announcements to the close to 200 000 growers, the majority of whom are based in rural areas to open Foreign Currency Accounts or not.
We feel the authorities did not do enough to educate the farmers on how they are going to use their 50 percent foreign currency retained, the documentation needed and the period the money can be kept in the FCA before it is automatically changed to RTGS dollars using the interbank rate.
We feel these are new developments in the economy and there is a greater need for extensive media campaigns even using some community structures for people to understand these issues before they come to the market with their crop.
Assuming that opening an FCA account can be done in situ at the auction floors, the farmers are supposed to be told by the banks of the information needed to avoid chaos.
How to use the 50 percent foreign currency retained is another issue that also needs proper education to avoid the growers being tossed from one office to the other.
The farmers produce an export product and it is our humble submission that like any other foreign currency earners they should be treated with the dignity they deserve.
There are traditional challenges obtained at the auction floors that we implore the relevant authorities, chiefly the TIMB, to solve to avoid the exploitation of the growers by mafia-like cartels that control the system and influence prices across all selling platforms.
The TIMB should have systems that are linked to all contractors to avoid cases where the latter fight for growers captured in databases of more than one contractor. In previous selling seasons, this has seriously inconvenienced farmers who have been forced to shuttle from one office to another before conducting sales, in the process losing valuable time and money.
We implore the authorities to ensure that there are reasonable and humane accommodation and ablution facilities to be used by the growers during the marketing season.
It is now common knowledge that following the liberalisation of the tobacco growing sector, TIMB records show that there are over 170 000 people registered to grow the crop unlike in the past when it was the preserve for a few white farmers.
This, therefore, calls for authorities to come up with strategies to handle such huge populations and to ensure the systems do not hold people at the auction floors for too long.
Besides the challenges that might be caused by the FCAs matrix, there has been bottlenecks in cash payments with growers in the past being made to wait for weeks before receiving their payments.
It is our hope that all stakeholders in the tobacco marketing process have been planning for a long time and the chaos of the past is minimised and the farmers are paid their dues on time and leave the floors. One of the biggest challenges has been of cartels and bank managers that went after cash slots allocated to branches at the floors and diverted it for the black market and expect such cases to be solved.
Inasmuch as the authorities have their challenges, the growers also have a fair share of the troubles experienced at the tobacco market.
We implore farmer organisations and TIMB to be more precise to educate the farmers on the need to supply yields estimates, get registered on time and book their delivery dates to avoid unnecessary delays.
We do not expect the farmers to just load their tobacco into the next lorry available heading for Harare without making proper selling arrangements and bookings.
It is our hope that all players in the tobacco selling process have been planning for months and there will be less chaos on Wednesday and beyond as volumes of deliveries increase.