Investigations and Special Reports Editor
A LOCAL tobacco company is reportedly ripping off farmers by compelling them to pay $20 for a name tag, which serves as a gate pass to access the sales floor.
Agritrade Leaf Tobacco (ALT) makes it mandatory for farmers to acquire tags bearing their names and faces to access the floors.
The name tag is just a picture and personal details inscribed on a laminated small piece of bond paper.
An amount of $20 will then be deducted from each farmer’s earnings.
The Herald has since established that printing companies doing the job were charging less than $5 for each tag, exposing Agritrade’s profiteering scam.
A farmer accompanied by a spouse and a child, ends up paying $60.
Farmers are crying foul over the practice, which has affected thousands.
Agritrade contracts small-scale farmers to grow tobacco, provides them with inputs and later offers a market for them.
Farmers who spoke to The Herald complained over the tag whose price they felt was unjustified.
Said Mr Cleopas Bhunu of Manicaland: “Over 5 000 farmers sell their tobacco here and if each one pays $20, the company will unjustifiably make huge profits. The tag is not necessary at all. We can sell our tobacco without the tag. It is just a piece of paper.
“After all, the $20 is paid for every year because the tag is valid for one selling season.”
Mr Sidney Chimupeni of Odzi shared similar sentiments.
“Last year, we bought the tags for $10 and this year it is now $20. The money appears small but if it is collected from thousands of farmers, it will be a huge figure. The tag is not even worth that much,” he said.
Mr Chimupeni said they were not allowed anywhere closer to where the sales are conducted, only to be informed of the price offer at a later stage.
“All the assessment and valuation of the tobacco is done in our absence. We are not allowed there and we are only told that your crop is worth $1,20 or $1,40 per kg without any negotiations.
“For example, I brought seven bales of tobacco and am entitled to US$600, which will be converted to RTGS dollar at the bank rate of around 1: 3,” said Mr Chimupeni.
Mr Sebastian Sithole of Guruve did not hide his disappointment.
“Our wives at times feel we abuse money when we come here and accompany us to the floors.
“If I am accompanied by my wife, I will end up paying $40 for name tags,” he said.
ALT field operations manager Mr Kudakwashe Saringo said it was company policy that all farmers and those accompanying them should have name tags.
“It is a security requirement for all farmers to have name tags when they are in our premises.”
The Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) spokesperson Mr Isheunesu Moyo condemned the high charges.
“That is unacceptable. It is important to have some form of identification, but the tobacco company should bear the cost. We’ll carry out further investigations to ensure we protect the farmers.”