By Isdore Guvamombe
Since the land reform, many black farmers who, for a long time had been sidelined to patriotic crops and substantive farming by the minority commercial white farmers, took advantage of the new land tenure system and went into tobacco farming big time.
Suffice to say, tobacco is not an easy crop: from nursery to transplanting, tending the crop, harvesting, curing, grading up to marketing.
Every stage requires due diligence and a misstep in one stage triggers ripple effects into the proceeding stages.
With years the farmers started gaining experience and producing high quality tobacco much to the chagrin of ousted white farmers and detractors of the land reform programme.
Our farmers have indeed grown through the processes and since the past three years our farmers have been able to produce high grade tobacco.
But the most painful experience has been the marketing aspect of the tobacco which has worsened by each season that comes. The farmer has found himself squeezed to nothing by cocktail of corruption facets working in cahoots and that include middlemen, transporters and auction floors.
On many occasions, the farmer has gone home with nothing or next to nothing, while the auction floors and middlemen have been all smiles home.
The 2018 tobacco marketing season started in earnest this last week and farmers are expecting good money after that hard work.
As the rainy season recedes giving way to harvest, farmers will bring more tobacco expecting better remuneration than other seasons.
In the past, farmers have felt outdone and cheated as they work so hard all season only to find themselves stuck in a sticky web of market matrix.
Zimbabwe has good and resilient farmers, but marketing season after marketing season has proved very difficult for the farmers.
After doing everything, suddenly things change and the farmer loses control of his or her crop at the auction floors. Too many people suddenly snare the farmer at the auction floors and you really wonder what they are doing there.
The farmers goes through a lot and is under pressure from everyone and everything. Surely, that is not the way things should be done. We can do better as a country.
It is sad to note that right inside the floors, the farmer is confronted by people demanding this and that bribe to have their tobacco auctioned for a better price.
The farmers are told, if you don’t pay something your tobacco will be auctioned for a song. The farmer is confused and the auction floors themselves have not put in place any serious mechanism to save the farmer.
Things happen at electric speed at the floors. As the machines rail-road tobacco to the auction room, the boys manning the machines are asking for bribes. The boys who open the bales are asking for bribes. The auctioneers are asking for bribes.
The transporter claims to be linked to the auctioneers and is asking for bribes. Someone who works at the bank is asking for a bribe for the farmer to get cash, once the auction is over. This is a web that the farmer finds himself or herself entangled.
The Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board has failed to put order in the marketing system and it is either conniving or out of sync with the reality of what happens. Being an authority with regulative powers, it surely should have learnt over the years and out in place mechanism to protect the farmers.
If you go to the auction floors today, there are too many people doing nothing there. You really wonder how they enter the floors and what the hell they will be doing there except cheating the farmer.
TIMB seems to have accepted that there should be middlemen at the floors. But what is their purpose and why can’t we just do things straight away. Why are we breeding corruption?
The auction floors themselves are serious appendages of corruption and are very complicit in their approach. They should allow only their workers, auctioneers and the farmer in the floors, not every jack and Jill. NO!
The auction floors themselves have proved to be the chief culprits. Everything becomes a circus and the same farmer they want to go back to the fields the very next season is fleeced right under their nose.
If anything this should be priority number one to ensure that the farmer is safe and gets what his crop is worth.
The timbre of it should be that both the industry and the farmer should benefit from the crop.
There is no justification why TIMB has failed to clear everything by putting in place measures that compel the auction floors to respect the farmer. At this rate more farmers will fall by the wayside and there is no benefit to the farmer and the industry.