Cash — rich middlemen are ripping off tobacco farmers who are in the nascent stages of harvesting in preparation for marketing at the auction floors or to contractors.
The vulture-like middlemen are reportedly buying entire fields and harvested crops currently being cured in barns, brewing legal battles for contracted farmers.
They have swooped the tobacco growing areas of Hurungwe and Makonde in Mashonaland West province and other areas in the country.
It is now feared that, apart from getting less value for their crop, some of the farmers who are contracted by the numerous contracting companies in the country will not be able to repay their loans or meet expected deliveries.
The crop is being bought for no more than US$1,50 per kg without consideration for the quality of the crop as the best quality usually fetches up to US$7 per kg.
The middlemen will then sell the crop at the auction floors at a higher price.
Contracted farmers get inputs, extension services and coal for curing the tobacco, with some providing funds to pay for labour costs but they are expected to sell to the contracting companies.
Zimbabwe uses a dual marketing system where the self-financed crop is sold under an auction system and the contractor supported crop sold to the contractor depending on the nature of the contract.
Speaking at the handover of Covid-19 personal protective equipment for health staff at Tengwe Clinic by Ethical Leaf Tobacco (ELT), Hurungwe East House of Assembly member Cde Ngoni Masenda warned farmers against selling to fly-by-night merchants as they stand to lose in the long run.
“The buyers are now here in Tengwe and I know they are also in other tobacco growing areas. I would like to urge growers to support those who support them,” said Cde Masenda.
“We do not want the practice of side marketing as it rips off the farmer who stands to lose future support.
“There are buyers who are coming to Hurungwe and asking to buy all the crops in the field and in the barns.”
ELT Mashonaland West regional manager Mr Gift Chaitezvi called on farmers to hold on to their crop and avoid selling to unscrupulous middlemen.
“The situation that has arisen in tobacco growing areas is that of middlemen commonly known as ‘makoronyera’ who are ripping where they did not sow by buying from farmers at prices that are lower than what they would ordinarily get at the auction floors.
“We are saying to farmers, be patient and sell for fair value at the auction floors. It is a matter of time before the floors are opened,” said Mr Chaitezvi.
One of the farmers in Tengwe Mr Noah Tafa said farmers are resorting to side marketing to meet some of the costs associated with curing tobacco, including labour and fuel.
“Farmers end up selling the crop to middlemen as a way of bridging the gap between what they get from contracting companies and costs associated with harvesting,” said Mr Tafa.