Zimbabwe tobacco marketing season begins

Rudo Boka

HARARE – The 2020 tobacco marketing season opens tomorrow, after being delayed by nearly a week, with a cocktail of tight guidelines in place on how the golden leaf will be sold to counter the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The marketing season should have started on April 22, but was postponed as stakeholders led by the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Mechanisation, explored the safest modalities to proceed with sales.

This was after President Mnangagwa just over a week ago extended the 21-day national lockdown, initially ending April 19, by two weeks to May 3, 2020, to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Tobacco sales bookings and deliveries opened yesterday, Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) said in statement .

Tobacco is Zimbabwe’s biggest export crop and the country’s second largest export earner after gold, as it earns the country around US$1 billion annually.

The earnings go a significant way in enhancing the country’s trade balance, which has averaged minus US$233 million between 1991 and 2019, before posting a record high of US$293 million last December.

Deliveries, which totalled 258 million kilogrammes last year, are projected to decline 20 percent this year due to the negative impact of spells of dry weather and drought on crop development experienced in many parts of the country.

TIMB said guidelines on the conduct of this year’s tobacco marketing season were the only minimal conditions expected from all floor operators, who shall work closely with the Ministry of Health and Child Care to counter risk posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“All stakeholders are advised that the 2020 Tobacco Auction Marketing season starts on Wednesday April 29, 2020. Contract tobacco sales start on Thursday April 30,2020,” TIMB said.

An awareness campaign will be carried out immediately by TIMB to notify all farmers and stakeholders of the set guidelines and alert them to the threat of the Covid-19 virus.

All selling points should actively spearhead Covid-19 awareness at their respective premises including displaying relevant posters and flyers.

The TIMB said it will enlist all relevant authorities, which include the Zimbabwe Republic Police and local Government officials, to enforce the complete closure and removal of all flea markets and vendors around the perimeter of auction and contract sales floors ahead of and during the 2020 tobacco marketing season.

Farmers will only be allowed to make a single delivery per week, for which actual sales will take place a day later, while there will be no banking facilities at all sales floors.

Respective banks will advise their clients where they can obtain banking services after selling their tobacco, TIMB said.

Auction should consolidate tobacco deliveries to minimise congestion at Harare’s tobacco floors.

Tobacco contractors operating decentralised sales points (outside Harare) have been advised to encourage farmers to make use of these facilities to minimise the numbers of farmers coming to Harare.

All tobacco will require booking prior to being sold. Non-booked tobacco will not be accepted, TIMB said, and farmers bringing such tobacco to the market shall be turned away and prohibited from making a sale.

“Not all growers shall be allowed to attend sales (virtual sales).

“Only growers agreeable to this arrangement can deliver. Growers not in-favour of this sales arrangement can wait for further developments in Covid-19 regulations.

“Nominated TIMB registered grower representatives at the floors shall make decisions on behalf of the absent grower. The details of the nominated TIMB registered grower representatives shall be submitted by the grower at booking including formal agreements through legally signed affidavits by the nominator.

“All growers with less than 100 bales per sale are not allowed to attend the sales and shall nominate a TIMB registered grower representative.

“All growers delivering more than 100 bales per sale can attend and witness the sale without necessarily appointing a grower representative.

“After classification and price determination, growers or their nominated representatives shall be allowed into sales arena in batches of 20 to conclude the sales,” TIMB said.

TIMB will licence and co-ordinate all tobacco transporters and unauthorised transporters will not be allowed to deliver any tobacco.

The regulator said trucks with less than a net of seven (7) tonnes capacity will not be licensed and hence will not be allowed to transport tobacco to the floors.

All transporters will be issued with permits and passes that authorise them to pass through roadblocks and toll gates. – Herald