Elita Chikwati Agriculture Reporter
TOBACCO growers are expected to start accessing the $7 million levy that was collected by the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board last season.
The 1,5 percent tobacco levy which had been scrapped in 2005, to encourage farmers to grow the crop was re-introduced by Government last year, since production of the crop had increased and was threatening the environment. The money would be used to assist tobacco farmers in growing gum trees and accessing alternatives to firewood.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union president Mr Wonder Chabikwa said TIMB was yet to inform farmers of the levy. He said most farmers were disappointed with the delays by the TIMB in disbursing the funds that are meant for conservation purposes.
“The levy is now being treated as a tax but as I know a primary product should not be taxed. There is no way that Government can tax raw tobacco. Farmers demand transparency. Imagine this season the levy will continue but we do not know the purpose of the levy,” he said.
Farmers have been waiting for the fund since the close of the selling season last year.
TIMB communications manager Mr Isheunesu Moyo said the board was finalising on a detailed proposal that would be sent to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development.
“We are going to consult with farmers’ representatives. The levy which was collected last season is ring-fenced and we will access it once the aforementioned process is complete,” he said.
Mr Moyo said farmers will not access the money uniformly but the board will consider the different areas farmers come from.
We are getting good support from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development which has assured us of the release of the money in time for sowing gum trees which is between June and July. Gum tree planting, the purpose for which the levy was collected only starts in June.
“This season we will continue with the collection of the levy at the reduced rate of 0, 75 percent,” he said.
Mr Moyo said farmers will not access the money uniformly but the board will consider the different sectors where farmers come from.
Some farmers were complaining that they were being forced to pay the levy when they did not rely on firewood for curing their crop but TIMB insisted that it will collect the levy from every farmer.
“That is the nature of a levy. It is meant to improve the industry as a whole. Even among some A1 farmers there were some who do not rely on firewood,” he said.
About 83 percent of growers who are either A1 resettled or in the communal areas account for 53 percent of the national tobacco production and they use firewood to cure their tobacco.