Local tobacco contractor Ethical Leaf Tobacco (ELT) has been in the eye of a storm after its rivals alleged that it was getting preferential treatment from Tobacco Sales Floor (TSF) because the company owner David Machingaidze is married to the TSF general manager, Mary.
According to recent reports, farmers complained that ELT could be getting favours from TSF. However, TSF public relations officer Solomon Mangwiro (SM) told our reporter Obey Manayiti (OM) that the allegations were peddled by their rivals to tarnish the company’s image. He also spoke about the company’s vision.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
OM: Who is behind ELT?
SM: The company is owned by David Machingaidze. He has been in the tobacco industry for a very long time and is the first local indigenous managing director of TSF group.
He is a Harvard Business School and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate and has vast experience in the sector.
OM: What new ideas are you bringing to the sector?
SM: We have shifted our interest to small to medium growers who are mostly disadvantaged by big players.
We are giving them a payable scheme which doesn’t overburden the farmers.
We have also empowered our employees by setting up the staff empowerment project which is simply fully funding the employees in growing tobacco.
This arrangement financially benefits the employees as well as enabling the company to meet its part of the volume target.
This initiative is in line with supporting the ZimAsset programme.
OM: ELT came on to the market this year, but already the company has a 5% market share according to statistics released by Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB), what is the secret to your success?
SM: Our secret has been that we pay the grower fairly, treat them well as they are the backbone of the tobacco industry.
We have sold our brand well as we are acceptable to the communities that we work with. We have also been involved in social corporate responsibility such as sponsoring schools tournament in tobacco regions.
OM: How are you faring against local and international merchants?
SM: We are doing fairly well considering that it’s our first year. We are grateful to the principal Mr.
Machingaidze for his foresight and the vision shared by the whole team in making ELT brand the best.
OM: We have seen farmers sleeping on the floors at auction floors, what is the problem?
SM: Basically, it has been the issue of wrong account numbers where farmers fail to renew bank accounts on time and it has not been possible to solve the problem the same day. We have, however, tried to solve these problems promptly.
OM: How is ELT helping out such farmers?
SM: We have tried to improve the situation by making farmers get their vouchers the same day while they get their money the following day after selling.
OM: What are some of the challenges you are facing in the industry?
SM: Competitors are feeling the heat and they end up bad-mouthing us and spreading lies but it’s all part of the industry. However, this will only make us more focused and strong.
OM: Government has taken a policy to decentralise tobacco floors. What is your take?
SM: We fully support this initiative. It reduces the rampart theft of tobacco on our highways when farmers are bringing tobacco for sale and reduces costs to the farmer.
OM: The tobacco pricing matrix has over the years come under scrutiny, how can a balance be struck between farmers and merchants’ expectations?
SM: This can be done by constantly educating the farmers on how to get the best crop and the correct grading process
OM: There have been reports that ELT ambushes and arm-twists farmers in order to get their golden leaf, what is your response to this?
SM: That is utter nonsense; there is no substance whatsoever in the allegations. It’s only a matter of sour grapes!
OM: What is your relationship with TSL because there are allegations that your company is getting preferential treatment by virtue of Machingaidze being married to the TSF managing director?
SM: Our relationship is at arm’s length, above board and purely professional.
OM: Where do you see your company and the tobacco sector in the next few years?
SM: We are confident that we will be a leading tobacco indigenous company on the continent.