EDITORIAL COMMENT: Let’s protect our tobacco farmers

Tobacco

Tobacco

AS the tobacco selling season, an annual phenomenon on the domestic economic calendar, starts, we trust there has been meticulous planning to ensure everything will be flawless.

Tobacco has grown to become an integral part of the socio-economic fabric of this economy, earning the country millions and transforming lives of farmers in a profound way.

Although production is this year anticipated to be 20 percent lower due to the effects of drought and low prices last season, all things being equal we should still earn well over half a billion dollars.

This, therefore, makes tobacco the single biggest foreign currency earner for Zimbabwe, if mining is regarded in terms of individual minerals, that way gold and platinum come a close second and third.

This means that tobacco is strategic to the wellbeing of the domestic economy and efforts to turn around the economy, driven by one of the success stories of the land reform.

As such, it goes without saying that as the marketing season has started, it must be all systems go and we expect little to no hitches to be encountered, especially by the farmers.

At this point, we applaud measures taken by the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board to improve security by restricting entry into auction floors, allowing only bona fide farmers on to the floors.

In the past, farmers cried foul after losing their crop to crooks, including unscrupulous middlemen who buy tobacco from farmers at low prices and resell it at much higher prices.

It is our fervent hope that this year we will not hear the same old story of the nuisance of these middlemen, a cancer that may not just prejudice farmers, but could destroy the industry.

We are already aware that the small size of hectarage put under crop this year and expected yield, lower than the 198 million kilogrammes sold last year, are partly due to farmers who have decided not to grow the crop this year, angered by low prices last season.

It is our belief that there will be no connivance between officials, buyers and middlemen at auction floors meant to manipulate prices to the detriment of our farmers.

Tobacco farming is now serious business; farmers either borrowed or used their hard-earned savings to be able to return to the fields and should therefore be duly rewarded for their sweat.

It must be remembered that those who borrowed need to repay to get more loans in future.

It is against this background that we also hope all measures put in place are water tight, effective and conceived to ensure optimal benefit for farmers and also s return for buyers.

But in order to sustain the future of tobacco farming, it is crucial to guarantee mutual benefit.

It is paramount that farmers will be paid a fair price that is proportionate to the quality and quantity of their crop.

It was heartening to learn from Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Dr Joseph Made that this year’s crop is generally of very good quality.

As such, there should never be unsubstantiated claims of poor quality crop designed to justify ridiculously low prices for the sole intention of ripping off farmers by paying them peanuts.

The middlemen, also known as Class B buyers, have hitherto caused havoc and ripped off unsuspecting farmers, including through false promises to influence high prices on the floors.

We also implore officials to ensure farmers are not inconvenienced by new systems, especially the need for all farmers to open bank accounts into which their money will be deposited.

It must be seen that the new requirement that farmers have bank accounts achieves its objective of financial inclusion, security for farmers’ earnings and creating track record for bank loans.

This will help the farmers from impulse buying and overspending helping them to plan for next season than a situation where proceeds from tobacco are wasted on luxurious gadgets.

We implore our farmers to be on the lookout for unscrupulous middlemen seeking to rob them of their earnings from the sale of the golden leaf having toiled for the entire season.

Farmers must shun temptations to engage in illegal activities. They should remember that the earnings from tobacco should be used for future investments and meeting the needs of their families. Let us protect the goose that lays the golden eggs.

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