Golden leaf loses its shine at auction

Tobacco farmers, Virginia Huchu and Jerita Chigumbura aren’t happy with the poor prices their crops fetched at auction. They tell SOFIA MAPARUNGA of the need for investment in expert knowledge and proper inputs to ensure high yields and good quality.

Tobacco farmer Virginia Huchu is struggling with poor prices for her tobacco.
Tobacco farmer Virginia Huchu is struggling with poor prices for her tobacco.

Virginia Huchu’s hopes of buying irrigation equipment for her farming activities have been quashed. A small-scale farmer, who received three hectares of land under the year 2000 agrarian land redistribution exercise, Huchu said she was yet to come to terms with the loss that she had incurred from tobacco farming.

Said Huchu: “The prices were so poor, I have not realised any profit. I am hoping that the next batch that is yet to be harvested is going to fetch good prices or else I will not be able to grow the crop again in the next farming season.”

Sustainability challenges

Huchu, from Mandi Extension in Hwedza, Mashonaland East, told The Zimbabwean that she had sold the 10 bales of tobacco at Boka auction floors at prices ranging between 30 cents and $1.20.

She said her livelihood depended entirely on agriculture. “I do all the work by myself with the help of my family,” she said.

“Tobacco farming is a lucrative business, if it is properly done and I am currently in shock,” said Huchu. She added that this was her second year growing tobacco.

She had been optimistic of a better harvest following last year’s good harvest, which earned her more than $5,000.

“I managed to buy some pipes and a pump and it was my hope to buy the remaining 200m of irrigation pipes and a sprinkler so that I could increase my agricultural production,” she said.

Huchu is one of the more than 87,000 tobacco growers that registered to sell their crop with the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board since the beginning of the selling season. Last year, the number was 65,000.

Communal growers constitute the greatest percentage of new tobacco farmers at 47 per cent; A1 farmers are 34 per cent of the total of new growers; small-scale 11 per cent, and A2 8 per cent.

A major foreign currency earner in Zimbabwe, tobacco production hit rock bottom in 2000 following the farm invasions that displaced hundreds of white commercial farmers.

Production plummeted from 237m kilos in 2000 to 49m in 2008, but the newly resettled black farmers have revived the production of the golden leaf.

Cash crop

Said Huchu: “Tobacco is much better than maize because at least you are given your money instantly. It is up to you to go and cash the cheque at the bank on the very same day that you sell your crop.”

She said challenges arose when the crop fetched poor prices.

“Tobacco farming is so demanding and labour-intensive. Failure to treat the crop with the required chemicals could be reason why the crop is fetching poor prices,” she said.

Jerita Chigumbura agrees. She farms in Maryland A, Village 3 in Macheke, Mashonaland East: “The highest price that I got for my crop was $4.20 per kilogram and I got close to $500 for a single bale.”

She said she was optimistic that the prices would pick up, considering that the selling season was still in its infancy.

The ZTA reported that in 2011, 132m kilos of tobacco were auctioned. In 2013, Zimbabwe’s tobacco exports raked in $771m from the 144.5m kilos sold at an average price of $5.94 a kilo.

Poor quality

Talking about how they had cured their tobacco, the women farmers said some of their tobacco had been classified as too wet.

Said Chigumbura: “Part of my crop was taken for further curing and they (Boka auction) charge for their services. I am yet to make a follow-up on whether I will get anything from that crop.”

She lamented the variations in pricing where the buyer said one price and the person writing the invoice would put a different price.

“At the auction floor, the man dictating the price said my crop should get $4.30 and then the man who wrote the price tagged my tobacco at $1.60. He could not justify why he did that when I asked him. I think they are cheating farmers,” said Chigumbura.

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