By Anna Chibamu
WITH less than a month before tobacco auction floors open for 2021 selling season, legislators have demanded that government announces the producer price for the golden leaf.
In the last few years, tobacco farmers have been deprived of their hard-earned money after poor prices were offered by buyers during the sale of the crop.
Farmers have been getting a share of the tobacco sales in half US dollars and the other part in Zimbabwean dollars, yet inputs were being sold in foreign currency, MPs said.
According to Harare North MP Rusty Markham, farmers were losing 30% of their retention before they plant in the next season due to government’s monetary policies such as the introduction of the auction system last June.
The auction system’s rate has been fixed, according Markham and Harare East MP Tendai Biti and yet the black market prevailed at the expense of the farmer.
Government this week denied the auction rate was being fixed.
“What measures have been put in place to the perennial problem with regards to payment of tobacco farmers or what measures have you put in place to ensure that tobacco farmers will get their money in good time since we are now in the tobacco selling season? asked Zanu PF Chivi MP Pupurai Togarepi.
Agriculture minister Anxious Masuka told the National Assembly that the opening of tobacco auctions was coming soon and as government was busy engaging with the buyers together with the Reserve Bank and farmer representatives who have suggested areas they would want improved from last year.
According to Masuka, “last year, farmers were getting 50% US dollars component and the other half in Zim dollar component. Their request is that they should be given more US dollar component because the majority of their inputs were now being sold in US dollars.
“The Reserve Bank has put in measures to the effect that there is going to be the same treatment to everyone who is exporting produce so that tobacco farmers are happy because they are going to get 60% and the USD component.
“We are busy ensuring that the two come to an agreement before the opening of the tobacco auction floors,” said Masuka.
However, Togarepi requested further clarity on the matter.
“The problem comes from the banks that are supposed to pay farmers when they will have delivered their tobacco. We have seen people staying at these auction floors after they would have sold their tobacco.
“Are there measures in place where the farmer is going to be paid immediately after delivery of his tobacco?” he asked.
MDC Alliance MP Willias Madzimure also questioned, “We have less than 30 days to the opening of auction floors. What is difficult on being prepared so that when the farmer is planting the crop, you announce the producer price so that the farmer can strategise for the coming year because as they are busy treating their tobacco, they are unaware of the price that you are going to pay them.”
Madzimure added, “Our prices are pegged at USD1 to Z$125. When you give the farmer 60%, the 40% that the farmer is going to get is not in the value of the USD but it is 60 cents because of the auction system. What measures are you going to put in place? May you please give the farmers their 100% component pegged at the prevalent USD?”
The minister explained that tobacco was auctioned at a tobacco auction floor where international and local buyers that exceed 30 companies at the moment are in a position to decide on what amount they would pay farmers.
“It is the responsibility of the Minister of Finance as to how it is going to be paid to the farmer,” Masuka said.