GOVERNMENT should support tobacco farmers by facilitating the establishment of auction floors at various tobacco growing regions in the country to reduce transport costs, the Tobacco Industry Development Support Institute for Southern Africa (TIDSI) has said.
TIDSI executive director, Jeffrey Takawira, told NewsDay that government should support tobacco farmers just like it does for gold miners.
“TIDSI calls upon government to support the tobacco farmers by facilitating the establishment of auction floors at various tobacco growing regions in the country,” he said.
“We have seen the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe through Fidelity Printers and Refiners creating mobile gold buying teams in mining and this can also be replicated for tobacco farmers,” he said.
Takawira said tobacco sales generate anything between $500 million to $600 million in hard currency, but were not being prioritised.
“The farmers are given the money in real-time gross settlement systems transfers which means the actual beneficiary of the dollars is the government. The government also does not give any support in the form of inputs like it does with maize and soya beans,” Takawira said.
“The farmers are usually supported by private contractors, who charge a huge premium for the inputs. We have seen also the government descending hard on the farmers for protesting against lack of access to their hard dollars.”
Takawira said the new dispensation has given hope to a lot of farmers in the country.
He said government should not always be the source of funding for farmers.
“The issue of land tenure should be addressed as a matter of urgency. The role of government is policy making, they have no business to be in business. The 99 -year leases should be used as collateral to access funding from the banks,” he said.
Tobacco is one of the country’s biggest foreign currency earners, contributing at least 10% to the gross domestic product.
Most of the farmers, however, have largely remained poor despite the huge contribution due to a host of reasons such as unfair pricing, lack of government policy support systems and mistrust between buyer and seller.
In his monetary policy statement, central bank chief, John Mangudya said he was increasing the tobacco finance facility to $70 million this year from the $28 million disbursed in 2017 to grow the sector.–newsdday