New breed of tobacco farmers come to terms with reality

Reading time 5 min.

ZIMBABWE’S new breed of farmers created by Robert Mugabe’s chaotic
and violent seizures of farmers from whites are a bitter lot. Those who ventured into tobacco cultivation are angry with the government.

Story by our correspondent in Harare

Since the auction floors opened up some weeks ago hundreds of
farmers have turned the Tobacco Sales Floor along Willowvale Road in
the industrial suburb of Southerton of Harare their home.

A good number of farmers have been waiting ever since their tobacco
went under the hammer to get their pay cheques and return home.
Most of them are first-time tobacco growers.

Angela thinks they are “very rude”

I spent some time with the farmers and they had no kind words for the
Mugabe regime.

Angela Marimo is from Chinhoyi and says she had no idea that
selling their tobacco would take that long, and was anxious about the
safety of her children back home especially during the current
violent election campaigns.

She said “I don’t think I will be growing tobacco again,” she tells
me dejectedly, wincing from the pain of the smoke stinging her eyes.
“I had no idea it would be such a hassle. I am worried about my
children back home. They are all alone. The oldest is just in Form 4.
Can you believe that we came here with just two pairs of clothes?”

As first-time tobacco growers, she said she had come unprepared for a
long stay in Harare and admit their stay has been a nightmare. At as early as 5am Angela and scores of others wake up to boil water for their husbands and make breakfast for him in aluminium tins picked up in a bin in the industrial area.

For a bath they are just content with only two or three handfuls of
water on his face, under the circumstances.

Breakfast is roast sweet potatoes cooked overnight using the fire
with which they warmed themselves during the night to save firewood,
which is expensive.

“On Thursday last week names for the cheques that were ready were
read out. My name was not there,” Angela continues. “Nobody has told us what is going on. They are very rude. They snap at us and tell us ‘go back home, your money is coming’. Some are lucky. They got part payments.”

When males leave for the auction floor to wait for their payments and sell their tobacco, women take turns to stay on guard and take a quick bath behind the tobacco floors.

“If you are on guard you have to make sure when you see a man
approaching you whistle so that the other women bathing cover
themselves up,” Tarisayi Chirondza joins in.

“At first I was ashamed to take a bath in the open but now I am used
to it because I realise there is no other way.”

After bathing the women take “stroll” into the high-density suburbs
nearby to look for firewood.

They charge exorbitant prizes for food.

By the time they return, it’s time to prepare lunch for their husbands.
Behind the Tobacco Sales Floor along Eltham Road where most of the
farmers have set up temporary shelter, there are no lavatories and
farmers and their families resort to the bush after hours.

With no water supply in the area, there are fears that a disease outbreak is imminent, especially in the absence of the proper toilet facilities.

To add to the growing population at the Tobacco Sales Floor during
the day are the many cross-border traders and informal food vendors
who have set up mini-markets there to take advantage of the huge
captive market.

This year’s market better than last year’s?

By June 6, Zimbabwe had earned US$44 million from both contract and
auction tobacco sales at all three floors since the tobacco selling
season begun over a month ago.

Meanwhile, tobacco deliveries continue to rise with the latest figures from the TIMB showing that 21,8 million kilogrammes have been sold at the three floors since the beginning of the selling season.

This compares favourably with 24,5 million kg that were sold at an average price of US$2,19 during the corresponding period last year.
The 21,8 million kg, which were sold at an average price of US$3,13 earned the country US$68,6 million against US$53,8 million earned for the same period last year.

A total of 13,2 million kg worth US$40,6 million were sold under contract while 8,5 million kg worth US$27,9 million were sold under individual sales.

A total of 74 672 kg of burley has been sold at an average price of US$1,64 realising US$122 145 so far. This compares with 52 213 kg that were sold at an average price of US$1,69 realising US$88 290 during the same period last year

No profits just a high inflation

However, farmers recently tore up their tobacco crop in protest on
the auction floors as state price controls to combat hyperinflation
threatened to wipe out their profits.

“The price is useless, we would rather keep my tobacco and sell to
buyers from Malawi or Zambia,” they said.

Some farmers tore up their bales and flicked tobacco leaves across
the floor as other ripped off tags placed on their bales by the
auctioneers that showed prices as low as one dollar (0.64 euros) per
kilogramme (2.2 pounds).

At the time of protests authorities had kept the official exchange
rate at 30,000 Zimbabwe dollars for one US dollar since September
last year but on the thriving black market one US dollar can be
exchanged for around a 100 million Zimbabwe dollars.

After weeks of being subjected to inhuman living conditions, tobacco farmers will get a chance of going back to their villages as the country’s three tobacco sales floors will close temporarily on Tuesday next week to pave way for the June 27 Presidential run-off.

TIMB acting chief executive, Dr Andrew Matibiri said in a statement on Wednesday that the resolution was taken by the TIMB board at its meeting held on Thursday last week.

“The board resolved to temporarily close all tobacco sales on Tuesday June 24, 2008 and re-open them on Monday 30th June 2008. “This decision was taken to enable tobacco growers to get their payments and travel back to their farms and homes in time for the Presidential run-off election,” Dr Matibiri said.

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