By Anna Chibamu
FINANCE Minister Mthuli Ncube has pledged his immediate attention to concerns raised by tobacco farmers who are stranded at most of the tobacco auction floors in Harare due to non-payment of their produce.
Ncube told NewZimbabwe.com on the sidelines of the country’s main independence day celebrations at the National Sports Stadium Thursday that the issues raised by farmers were genuine.
He said he would soon follow up with local banks to make sure that the farmers’ grievances are resolved and they return to their farms or communities without any further payment delays.
Farmers who spoke to the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture recently were disappointed by government’s failure to protect them from middle men who were buying their produce at very low prices for resell at much higher prices.
The farmers also reported delays in their payment by some banks and as a result, some had become stranded at the auction floors and were suffering from hunger while waiting for their dues.
The golden leaf producers complained that contracting companies such as Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) had become an interested party in the buying of tobacco at Boka Auction Floors, claims that the firm has dismissed as untrue.
“I will look into the situation in order to solve the farmers’ plight. As you know that first thing I had to do was to remove the 2 percent tax so that they get more money into their pockets.
“Now that I hear about the shortages of money for the farmers from the banks, I will talk to the central bank chief so that money can be availed to them so we can alleviate their problems soon,” Ncube said.
Some farmers were in tears when they spoke to MPs.
“We thought it was a good gesture to return to our communities in the rural areas as youths to do farming but, we are disappointed by our leaders who are failing us in so many ways.
“If you buy my tobacco at 40 cents per kg, what will I do with it? It is peanuts. I cannot even pay school fees for my child back home. The situation is so desperate and makes someone cry. For sure we are angry about these leaders. They are a disappointment,” said one farmer.
Government had promised farmers US dollar payments for their produce but later changed to 50 percent forex and the remainder in the much resented RTGS$.
Government was soon to make another U-turn with farmers now getting all their dues in RTGS dollars.
The banks have no forex and eventually, farmers now receive RTGS$.
They are supposed to get some of their money in cash with the rest through electronic transfer.
However, farmers prefer to receive much of their payments in cash so that they can pay wages to their workers.