By Kuda Chideme, HARARE, March 4 (The Source) – The tobacco selling season got off to a false start on Wednesday, with riot police called in at the Boka Auction Floor after farmers protested low prices, leading to sales being suspended for the greater part of the day.
Sales opened at $3,50 per kilogramme compared to last year’s $4,85, but prices quickly sunk to 20 cents per kg, leading to farmers protesting and stopping proceedings, calling the rates ‘exploitive’.
The sales at Boka, which traditionally mark the beginning of the season, only resumed around midday.
Boka chief executive, Rudo Boka told The Source that instead of demonstrating the farmers were entitled to seek arbitration from the regulator, Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB).
“When the farmers are not happy with the price it is within their rights to refuse to sell. They can seek arbitration which is overseen by TIMB to avoid disrupting business,” she said.
“It is a free market. I would like to challenge the farmers that are protesting to come before us with their tobacco and tell us why their tobacco should get more when it is not worth what the (merchants) are expecting.”
When The Source visited Tobacco Sales Floor (TSF) – the country’s second largest auction floor – at midday, the entrance to the auction floors was locked with farmers protesting outside.
TSF officials were said to be in a meeting.
TIMB operations and technical services director Meanwell Gudu told The Source that buyers were not prepared to pay more for the tobacco of poor quality.
“We have been talking to the buyers so that they offer reasonable prices but their position is that they will only pay more if the quality of the product is good,” he said.
The marketing season normally starts in mid-February opened late this year following delayed rains and late harvesting by farmers.
This year Zimbabwe projects lower output at around 195 million kg from 216 million kg last year, which earned $684 million.