As we start the 2015 tobacco auction season today, we once again urge tobacco farmers to take a few precautions to avoid losing the proceeds of their sweat. At least 93 000 farmers have registered to produce the cash crop so far this year and of these, 16 751 are new farmers.
It has become standard that a majority of these new tobacco farmers become the unhappiest lot in the county during the selling season when they should be enjoying their due rewards after months of intensive work and financial commitment.
Each year the plight of tobacco farmers at auction floors makes the news. Stories abound of farmers in need of cars who pay ridiculous prices for heaps of metal junk that only move for a few kilometres before going permanently kaput. Other tales are of farmers being fleeced by prostitutes, vendors and transporters.
Yet the traps that they unerringly fall into are quite easy to avoid with a little caution and heeding of a few basic rules to watch out for.
First and foremost, tobacco farmers should take note of the stringent grading demanded by the auction floors. The cost of transporting bales of sub-standard and poorly graded tobacco are never worth the effort. New farmers should not pin hopes on trying their luck at the auction floors as that can only end in bitter disappointment and the conclusion that tobacco farming is not the lucrative venture it is touted to be.
Secondly, farmers must use the decentralised booking systems for auction floor slots. Bringing product to the floors without prior booking results in congestion and the exposure of farmers to terrible living conditions as they squat at the floors which are not designed to double as camping grounds.
After selling their crop and getting their money, new farmers often fall victim to scams and con artists who approach them in varying guises. The reasons why they are such easy targets are simple; new tobacco farmers often carry huge sums in cash and are quite dazzled at their sudden munificence.
Almost all of them would never have handled a tenth of such huge sums of money at one go in their lives.
Yet banking has never been easier. Most banks have footprints all over the country and their accounts can be linked to mobile money transfer systems whose agents have penetrated the remotest corners of the land.
So no one needs to carry large sums of cash which is just an invitation for every thief within sniffing distance to take.
Transacting through banks will also help the farmer resist impulse buying.
It seems to be an avowed weakness of tobacco farmers to splash on unplanned spending as they buy anything that is presented to them. As with any other person, budgeting before actually getting the money then sticking to that budget is the only way to ensure that farmers buy what they need without wasting money on fripperies that do not bring meaningful improvement to their standard of life. Farmers should prioritise mechanised implements and inputs for the next season before indulging in ephemeral consumer goods.
Without the constraints of large sums of cash on their persons, farmers should be free to window shop and compare prices before making purchases.
This will also help them cut out middlemen who charge high premiums for goods which are freely available in retail outlets all over town, if only the farmers would bother to patronise the same.
It is only wise and organised farmers who will find the gold in the tobacco selling season.
The unwise will regret the time and money they spent in the fields.