By Believe Tevera
Tobacco contract farming in Zimbabwe does not benefit the ordinary farmer, as it turns farmers into slaves to enrich the Contracting Companies. Farmers are turned into disguised workers for the contracting companies and they are always in debt, leaving them without surplus money to recapitalize and survive. The contracting companies do not give farmers enough inputs and sometimes farmers are given things that don’t add value to their business.
In most cases, farmers are not given enough inputs required for their respective hectarage and this in return affects the quality of yields and the income of farmers. After giving farmers inputs these companies charge exorbitant interest on the inputs, straining the farmer who spends more than 6 months working on the crop. As if it is not enough, these companies offer farmers manipulative prices (wholesale prices) for high-quality tobacco not empowering the farmer to continue producing.
This is evidenced by the decrease in the hectarage of tobacco this season. Some of these companies are not different from money lending gurus found in our communities (Chimbazo), who are not worried about the welfare and financial empowerment of farmers but just focusing on making huge profits and self-enrichment.
The mushrooming and increase in number of contracting companies in Zimbabwe is a threat to tobacco production as most farmers are giving up on the crop. Most of the companies are subcontracted by large companies , so they make sure that the ordinary farmer gets peanuts and they pocket the rest.
On their own, the contracting companies don’t have the capacity to fully fund the farmers with enough inputs and chemicals and this adversely affects farmers as they end up producing poor quality tobacco. Their interest is only on the crop so that they can reach their seasonal targets yet the ordinary farmer benefits nothing. Contract farming also compromises the independence of farmers as it strips off the power to choose a market of their choice.
Given that the tobacco sector earns the country close to US$1 billion anually in foreign currency and tobacco being the largest single foreign currency earner after gold, the Zimbabwean government should empower tobacco farmers through its inputs schemes. This will in turn empower farmers to choose a market of their choice, and the move will see more farmers who had abandoned the crop jumping back into the boat thereby increasing tobacco production in Zimbabwe.
Tobacco Farmers Union of Zimbabwe urges the Government through the Ministry of Agriculture and Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) to take action and put stiff requirements for one to register a contracting company so as to limit the mushrooming of bogus and incapacitated fly-by-night contracting companies that don’t have farmers intererests at heart.
TIMB should look into the matter as a matter of urgency and make sure such incapacitated companies are banned from operating and their licenses are withdrawn as these companies are bringing rot into the industry. TIMB should have a follow-up mechanism to make sure that these contracting companies adhere to its regulations and if found on the wrong side of the law, they should be banned from operating.
It should also put up measures to stop the same companies from capturing farmers’ grower numbers without the farmer’s consent as this causes confusion to farmers as they make their sales, especially during times like these where movements are restricted due to the COVID-19-induced national lockdown.
Believe Tevera is President of Tobacco Farmers Union of Zimbabwe
He can be contacted on ;
00263 785 964 343/ 771 474411 / 718 137 168