Walter Muchinguri and Elita Chikwati—
The 2015 flue-cured tobacco selling season got off to a chaotic start at three auction floors where farmers disrupted sales in protest over prices yesterday, resulting in anti-riot police being called in to restore order. The farmers were incensed that the first bale went for $3,50 per kg, compared to $4,85 on the opening day last season.
After the sale of the first bale, prices plunged to between $0,06 and $3,10 per kg, which prompted farmers, who were singing “Taramba zvemadhisinyongoro (No to oppression)” to block the path of the buyers, resulting in the suspension of sales.
The sales resumed later under the watchful eye of anti-riot police, with buyers offering improved prices, some of which went above $4 per kg.
The protests, which started at Boka Tobacco Auction Floors, spread to the Tobacco Sales Floors and Premier Tobacco Auction Floors where sales were also suspended before restarting after tempers had cooled down.
Farmers said they could not stomach “giving away their tobacco for a song”.
Mvurwi farmer Mr Matthew Matema accused buyers of hoarding the crop at low prices for resale at the contract floors at higher prices.
“They are buying tobacco as if they are buying second-hand clothes at a market. They want to maximise their profits at our expense.”
Mazowe farmer Mr Jethro Makaza said the opening prices were discouraging.
Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board chief executive Dr Andrew Matibiri said farmers should follow proper procedures when aggrieved.
“When a farmer is not happy with the price offered, the proper procedure is for them to tear the sales ticket. They have no right to stop sales, only the Minister of Agriculture can do that,” he said.
Boka Tobacco Auction Floors chief executive Ms Rudo Boka said she suspected a hidden hand behind the protests.
“There is no reason why farmers should shout or sing. They should voice their concerns peacefully when not satisfied with the price.”
Premier Tobacco Auction Floors managing director Mr Philemon Mangena said he hoped the situation would improve.
In her address during the official opening of the selling season last week, TIMB chairperson Mrs Monica Chinamasa raised concern over the ceiling price of $4,99 per kg that has prevailed at the auction floors for the past few seasons.
“The maximum cap or ceiling price of $4,99 per kilogramme that has prevailed at auction floor sales for the last two years is not desirable as it certainly does not reflect the true value of the leaf,” she said.
“This has resulted in a number of tobacco grades, of clearly different styles and quality, all fetching the same price.”
Contract sales are expected to start today.
The industry is expecting between 180 million and 194 million kgs of tobacco this season, down from 216 million kgs that was produced last season.