Elita Chikwati Senior Agriculture Reporter
All is set of the opening of the 2018 tobacco selling season next Wednesday, with the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) expressing satisfaction with the readiness of operators during an inspection of the three licensed floors in Harare yesterday.
The TIMB board inspected Premier Tobacco Auction Floors, Boka Tobacco Auction Floors and Tobacco Sales Floors.
According to TIMB, there was adequate security, ablution and banking facilities, clinics, waiting areas and borehole water, among other things.
TIMB chairperson Mrs Monica Chinamasa said there was need for stakeholders in the tobacco industry to work together to ensure a smooth marketing season, especially on the cash issue.
“We may have a challenge with cash,” she said.
“We all know the situation with our banks. We are glad the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has gone out to assist the farmers to get a bit of cash to take home.”
RBZ announced that farmers would get a maximum of $300 cash per sale this season.
Mrs Chinamasa urged farmers to use the cash for critical things like paying for labour.
“We remain guided by the RBZ because it can only give out what is available,” she said.
“If the money is not there, we cannot blame anybody. We have to generate the money. This is where tobacco comes in.”
Mrs Chinamasa urged farmers to take advantage of the tobacco fund availed by Government through the RBZ to grow more tobacco.
“RBZ is injecting 70 million to assist the small scale tobacco growers so that we push up volumes,” she said.
“This is how we can increase foreign currency inflow so that we will be able to pay each other more than $300 per day, but from now let us work with what is there.”
Mrs Chinamasa said this year the electronic marketing system was going to be used on low volumes as it required fewer bales. “The system is good but requires few bales,” she said.
“So, we will use the traditional marketing system and turn to e- marketing when there are few bales.”
On decentralisation, Mrs Chinamasa said BTAF had assured TIMB that they will be operating in Rusape while Mashonaland Tobacco Company will operate in Mvurwi and Karoi.
Representatives from BTAF, TSF and PTAF all confirmed that they were ready for the season and their only fear was cash availability at the banks.
Premier’s managing director, Mr Phineas Mangena, whose organisation has been accused of not paying its workers, admitted that they only faced challenges in paying salaries last season and not over two and a half years as suggested.
“Our volumes declined from 14 million kilogrammes to 4,5 million kilogrammes as many farmers turned to contract farming and this affected our operations,” he said.
“We, however, decided against retrenching our staff because we felt it was an inhuman thing to do. We fell behind in terms of salary payments as a result of the mismatch between income and our expenditure, especially on salaries.
“We are one month behind in terms of paying salaries for some of our workers and we are hopeful that when we open we will be able to clear the arrears.
“This season we are hopeful of getting more farmers as a result of the recent move by Government to inject $28 million under the tobacco fund to assist small holder farmers. Things are tough, but we are trying to come up with measures to boost our business.
“Contrary to misconceptions that have been created, Premier does not buy tobacco, it only provides the infrastructure for farmers and buyers to conduct their business, so our falling behind in paying salaries have no bearing on the tobacco buying business.”
There are 29 buyers and 23 contractors that have been licensed for this season.