Tobacco farmers stage cash demo • Banks fail to meet $1 000 withdrawals • Police called in to restore order

Zvamaida Murwira and Runyararo Muzavazi—
Tobacco farmers yesterday staged a demonstration at Tobacco Sales Floor (TSF) over the failure by banks to allow them to withdraw $1 000 as announced by a tripartite agreement among stakeholders.The farmers also complained over banks’ delays in processing their payments.

Police had to be called in to restore order after some farmers shut the entrance into the auction floor in protest over the decision by banks to restrict them to $300 withdrawals.

Early this week, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) and the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association (ZTA) announced in a tripartite statement that farmers would be able to withdraw $1 000 for their initial sale and $500 in subsequent sales.

Business at TSF was disrupted for more than an hour as the demonstration ensued, with farmers waving placards denouncing TIMB.

When The Herald visited TSF, gates were still closed as farmers sang and danced in scenes that could easily turn riotous.

Some of the placards were inscribed “TIMB yaita huwori, hatikweretese fodya” and “We need our money.” Initially, the police came wielding batons, but had to retreat to their camp, only to return in anti-riot gear after realising the situation was threatening to turn violent.

Business was eventually restored after banks, which have set up their branches at the auction floors, started allowing the farmers to withdraw $1 000.

TIMB spokesperson Mr Isheunesu Moyo said they had engaged the central bank, which assured them that funds would continue to be mobilised to avoid inconveniencing farmers.

“The RBZ assured us that they will put all necessary measures to ensure that farmers were paid without hassles and that funds would be mobilised to pay them,” said Mr Moyo.

When contacted, RBZ governor Dr John Mangudya said he was in a meeting and could not take calls.

His phone subsequently went unanswered and did not respond to messages sent on his mobile phone.

Zimbabwe Progressive Tobacco Farmers’ Association president Mr Mutandwa Mutasa implored the central bank to ensure that funds to pay farmers were available.

He said reneging on agreed figures for whatever reason had an adverse effect on farmers, most of whom would have travelled long distances to Harare.

“The central bank should reign in on banks so that farmers are paid promptly,” said Mr Mutasa. “Farmers have to return to their farms to continue attending to their produce. It does not help to keep them here for a long time.”

Mr David Masawu, a tobacco farmer, said the delay in cash withdrawals resulted in farmers spending more days at the auction floors, accumulating expenses as the cash withdrawals were being slowly processed.

This, he said, resulted in the money reflecting late in the farmer’s bank accounts.

“Cash delays are giving us headaches as we now have to spend endless nights waiting for the money to reflect in our bank accounts,” said Mr Mutasa. “It is not good for us the tobacco farmers, looking at the hard work invested for the tobacco to yield.”

The tobacco marketing season kicked off on Wednesday at TSF, Boka Tobacco Auction Floors and Premier Tobacco Auction Floor, amid high expectations on the back of good rains experienced this season.

The technical challenges in the use of electronic marketing that had characterised the floors did not affect business.

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