Tobacco regulator targets better quality crop after farmer riots

Tobacco regulator targets better quality crop after farmer riots

HARARE, November 4 (The Source) – The tobacco industry regulator says it will train 20,000 farmers on best farming practices to improve output and quality of the golden leaf to avoid riots over poor prices that accompanied the start of the selling season early this year.

This year’s tobacco season, which opened in March, saw farmers protest over low prices which fell to as low as 20 cents per kilogramme and the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) is keen to avoid a repeat by training growers to improve quality.

“While we cannot influence prices, we can determine the quality of our tobacco. Good quality tobacco always fetches more. We are targeting to train 20,000 farmers on best agronomic practices this season, from land preparation right through to curing, grading, baling and presentation on the floors,” said chief executive Andrew Matibiri in a written response to questions.

The training involved practical and theoretical training to ‘impart best agronomic practices’ to the tobacco farmers at no cost in conjunction with the Agriculture Extension Services (Agritex), the Tobacco Research Board, farmers’ unions and contracting companies.

“We are also introducing E-Marketing, and we are confident that this will go a long way to curb activities by illegal buyers who are short-changing the bona fide growers,” said Matibiri.

The early riots, Matibiri said, were because farmers expected prices to increase from the previous season.

“The reversal of expectations resulted in brief disruptions of sales by farmers. The misconception by some farmers that TIMB sets the tobacco prices had to be allayed before normalcy could return. The disruption however, presented an opportunity for illegal buyers as well as for side marketing,” he said.

“Contracted farmers were afraid that given the prices, most of the money attained in the sales would go towards their loan repayments. Another challenge is that not all contracted farmers were able to service their loans.”

Poor power supplies and illegal buyers also presented challenges for the 2015/16 season, Matibiri said.

“Farmers who do not receive contracts may find it difficult to access money from the market or banks, given poor loan repayment histories in some cases and the lack of security. Illegal tobacco buyers also continue to be a sore thumb,” he said.

“The electricity situation has also not spared tobacco farmers with crops under irrigation.”