By Tendai Munengwa
TOBACCO farmers are up in arms with the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) for allegedly protecting unscrupulous contractors who are fleecing them, with some growers going for close to two years without getting their dues.
As the calls by farmers to bring sanity to the tobacco industry continue to grow louder, this Tuesday farmers’ organisations came out guns blazing demanding an explanation from TIMB for allegedly protecting contractors who are breaching contractual agreements at the expense of farmers.
“We have seen TIMB writing letters weekly protecting contractors who have failed to pay farmers for a long time now. The law says farmers should be paid within 48 hours after selling tobacco, but as we speak we have our members who have not been paid for two years, yet the contractors have not been charged nor has there been any action by TIMB,” said George Seremwe, Tobacco Association of Zimbabwe president.
The farmers also blasted TIMB for allegedly manipulating the stop order system and distorting the payments database.
“We have seen another circular claiming farmers are owing contractors, how much are we owing? We demand TIMB to provide us with a list to justify this because the so-called defaulters are not our members but fake grower numbers used by their affiliate contractors to manipulate and divert funds from Banks that were meant for farmer’s inputs,” said Mutandwa Mutasa, Progressive Tobacco Association of Zim president.
TIMB chairman, Patrick Devenish could neither confirm nor deny allegations that some contractors are defaulting but continue to get licences. “On allegations of not paying, I can not comment on this, but TIMB is doing its best for the past four years to bring sanity and ensure farmers get fair deals,” he said.
Farmers also raised concerns over corruption where tobacco export receipts are reportedly being undervalued, costing the country billions of United States dollars.
“We have investigated this issue and found out that the country is being prejudiced of billions of United States dollars by a syndicate or cartels who buy tobacco and export to their sister companies. Those who came forward with information end up being threatened,” revealed Mutasa.
The TIMB recently made headlines for the wrong reasons with chief executive officer Meanwell Gudu and other top officials being arraigned before the courts on allegations of fraud.
Observers feel there is a need to restructure the TIMB to usher in leadership with the farmers’ plight and the nation at heart.