The Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (Timb) has already announced that the selling season opens on February 15 but in the courts Zitac and Boka are fighting to join Tobacco Sales Floor as the second tobacco auctioneers.
Zitac entered a contractual agreement to lease Boka Tobacco Auction floors for a period of 15 years from 2001 to 2016.
A dispute arose between the property owner, Boka Investments and lessee Zitac when the former decided to cancel the lease citing breach of contract.
Although the case is before the courts pending a final ruling, Zitac has vowed not to leave the premises unless it is furnished with a court order directing it to do so, while Boka Investments says that Zitac blatantly breached sections of the agreement and must leave the premises.
Stakeholders believe the dispute over Boka premises spells doom for tobacco farmers this season. “By the look of it, we are going to face a couple of problems considering the fact that the floors are not yet ready for opening.
“So far, we know of only one floor that has been confirmed as ready to open,” said Tobacco Association of Zimbabwe (TAZ) CEO, Wilfred Nhemwa.
He said the existence of one floor means there won’t be competition and this is going to affect the prices.
Nicholas Kapungu, President of the Zimbabwe Progressive Tobacco Farmers Union called for the immediate restoration of normalcy at the floors as a lot was at stake for small-scale farmers.
“This conflict will really affect us because we don’t know who is in charge at those floors,” Kapungu said.
Kapungu said Zitac should be evicted so that farmers can deal directly with the owners of the building adding that should the chaos continue, they would “vigorously demonstrate” at the floors.
It’s not only the issue of tobacco floors that farmers have to grapple with. Tobacco farmers need electricity during the curing period and with Zesa erratic in supplies, it means that they have to use generators thereby increasing the cost of production.
Nhemwa told Standardbusiness the association was hoping that the booking system was adhered to so as to ensure orderly marketing of tobacco and “avoid a repeat of last year”.
He said TAZ had struck a deal with the power utility which has promised to ensure power is available during the tobacco curing period on condition that farmers settle the US$50 million debt owed to Zesa.
The curing period started in December and runs up to March.
“Zesa are agreeable to that but want farmers to pay half of the bill and the remainder through stop orders and has said that it will do everything to ensure that there is power during the curing period,” Nhemwa said.
Zimbabwe Tobacco Association president Kevin Cooke explained that the association met with the Timb and were informed that staff was being employed in anticipation of a busy marketing season.
“We are hoping that the floors open in accordance with schedule this February as there has been a lot more planting this season,” Cooke said.
Tobacco production is on the increased buoyed by favourable prices on the auction floors and last year more than doubled on 2009 figures of 59 million kgs.
It has the highest returns compared to other cash crops.
Tobacco was the backbone of Zimbabwe’s flourishing economy in the 1980s till the late 90s, as good quality leaf was known to originate from the country.
The crop contributed an estimated 50 % of the country’s foreign currency and ranked behind the United States of America and Brazil in terms of volume of leaf exports worldwide.
However, a vigorous international anti-smoking lobby remains the only real threat to an industry that has survived for centuries and employs millions across the globe.