Elita Chikwati–Senior Farm Journalist
The 2022 tobacco sales season officially opened yesterday with the government calling for discipline among industry players to eliminate deprivation of farmers by middlemen while improving transparency and fairness in contracts and auctions.
The sales took place at the Tobacco Sales Floors (TSF) and Premier Tobacco Floors (PTF), while Boka Tobacco Floors (BTF) will open on Monday to clear the way for road construction works adjacent to the premises.
The official opening took place at the TSF where the auction of the first measure was observed by the Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development, Anxious Masuka.
The first bale fetched $4.20 per kg, which is less than the $4.30 per kg that the first bale earned last year.
Farmers said they expected prices to improve as the season progresses.
Contract sales are expected to begin today. This year, farmers receive 75% of their payments in foreign currency and the funds are treated as free funds. The government has urged traders to do their part by paying fair prices for this tobacco.
This year marks three years of the sales season in which tobacco sales were conducted under strict guidelines in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Officially inaugurating the 2022 tobacco marketing season yesterday, Minister Masuka said the government was focused on the role of tobacco in improving livelihoods in line with Vision 2030, and on the much-needed foreign currency that the harvest brings to the country.
“As Minister in charge of this sub-sector, my gaze and my mind are fixed on the entire value chain. — on fairness, on ethics and probity, on transparency, on responsibility, on discipline, on fairness and on sustainability.
“Through the Tobacco Transformation Plan (TTP), we will build this industry ‘brick by brick and stone by stone’ into a $5 billion industry by 2025,” he said.
The government last year approved the TTP to increase production to 300 million kg per year of good quality styles desired by the international market, increase productivity to 2000 kg/ha, through vertical growth and reduction losses, to increase the added value and recovery to 30 percent of the harvest by 2025 compared to the current 2%, and to localize the financing of tobacco by injecting, among other things, start-up funds of at least 60 million US dollars.
Buyers have also been warned against the offering of higher prices at contract sales compared to auctions for similar quality and collusion by traders and maneuvers by middlemen to rework tobacco purchased at low prices from farmers,
“I recommend that the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) Inspection Unit continue to work with other security agencies to eliminate these defects. Discipline must return to this important industry. Contractors must provide the prescribed minimum support program to smallholders and commercial farmers and farmers must repay this support by delivering the crop to contractors while avoiding parallel marketing,” he said.
TIMB Vice President, Ms. Nomusa Dube commended smallholder farmers for contributing greatly to the volumes and quality of tobacco produced in Zimbabwe.
“Some 133 million kg of the 211 million kg sold in the 2021 marketing season came from smallholder farmers. They are our economic heroes and we applied their dedication.
“Concerns have been raised about growers facing viability issues due to rising production costs.
“Authorities are working on better alternative sources of financing to improve the viability of tobacco growers,” she said.
The chairman of the Tobacco Association of Zimbabwe (TAZ), Mr George Seremwe, said farmers were expecting prices much higher than those offered on the first day.
“Farmers are expecting a slightly higher price than what is being offered at the moment. We are expects improvement,” he said.
The President of the Zimbabwe National Farmers Union, Ms. Monica Chinamasa, said the quality of the crop brought in by the farmers on the first day was good.
She said the first bale could have fetched a higher price because of its quality, color and leaf size.
Ms. Chinamasa called for investment in irrigation facilities to help farmers during times of drought.
“We urge the government to invest more in irrigation facilities so that smallholder farmers can use available water bodies to increase production. Irrigation is the way forward,” she said.
Mrs. Nyasha Ndoro, a farmer from Mvurwi, said she was happy with the prices offered on the first day.
“If prices continue like this, it will be a good season, we hope prices will continue to strengthen,” she said.