TIMB punishes tobacco buyer over side-marketing

AGRITRADE Leaf Tobacco has been slapped with a plethora of sanctions, after it was accused of lack of professionalism in the way it purchased tobacco.

BY FIDELITY MHLANGA

Sources said the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) recently held a meeting where it found Agritrade guilty of promoting side-marketing and prejudicing farmers of incentive payments.

Sources said TIMB wrote to Agritrade informing them they had not paid an outstanding fine of

$10 000 from the last marketing season, where the company’s staff used their growers number to get incentive bonuses meant for farmers.

Tobacco incentives are normally paid at the end of the year.

NewsDay could not establish how much Agritrade got as incentives at the expense of farmers, although sources say it was a huge figure.

Since the 2015/2016 season, tobacco farmers were directly paid a 5% incentive, which has been increased to 12,5% to promote the production of one of the country’s largest foreign currency earners.

Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union president, Wonder Chabikwa said a fine on its own was not enough to cover for this misdemeanour, saying Agritrade must be made to repay the incentives at the current rate of 12,5%, as punishment.

“Farmers want to be paid what they are owed,” he said. “The company must refund the farmers their incentives. In this instance, they must pay with the current rate of 12,5% that will be adequate for us.”

In the wake of the disciplinary case, TIMB, with effect from last Monday, directed Mashonaland Tobacco Company, as an off taker, to pay all farmers directly for all tobacco sales at Agritrade’s Harare contract sales floor and not to make any payments to the beleaguered company.

Experts say an off taker was appointed because the previous contractor traded in an unprofessional way.

When contacted for comment, Agritrade managing director, Cephas Rukweza said: “Nothing has changed pertaining to how we have been operating from the onset and why would they (MTC) do that on our behalf?”

TIMB also resolved that weighing auction fees be deposited into its suspense account until further notice.

Earlier this month, TIMB halted Agritrade’s Rusape operations on allegations the company was promoting side-marketing and has since asked the company to supply detailed information on identities of grower numbers that were used for side-marketing, including names of affected farmers and the number of bales.

TIMB will then verify all documents that were used to establish whether the numbers belong to bona fide farmers.