Zimbabwe’s tobacco farmers plead for a greater deal


Harare, Zimbabwe – Bornface Batwero sits languidly within the driver’s seat of his lorry exterior the Tobacco Gross sales Flooring – an public sale venue within the capital Harare the place farmers collect from round Zimbabwe to promote their crops.

It’s mid-morning on a Monday. Batwero advised Al Jazeera he was nonetheless ready to obtain cost for a consignment of tobacco he had bought on Friday, when he arrived from Centenary, a rural space in Mashonaland province, some 144km (89 miles) northwest of Harare.

“I’m ready for my cost later as we speak,” stated the 37-year-old tobacco farmer. “I don’t understand how a lot they’ll pay me.”

Uncertainty has turn into a characteristic of Zimbabwe’s largest agricultural export.

Tobacco Gross sales Flooring, a division of a Zimbabwe Inventory Trade-listed agro-industrial group, Tobacco Gross sales Restricted, is without doubt one of the main public sale homes within the nation.

After COVID-19 swept the nation final yr, the Tobacco Gross sales Flooring – like different public sale flooring – instituted a brand new advertising and marketing system that doesn’t require farmers to be bodily current after they promote their crops. As an alternative, one particular person represents a gaggle of farmers at public sale, in an effort to restrict bodily contact, to ensure they get an excellent deal.

Batwero remains to be ready to gather his cash. However greater than the inconvenience of ready, he’s involved that a good portion of his cost will drop in worth earlier than he even sees it, eroding his income.

That’s as a result of beneath the brand new tobacco-selling laws put in place because the coronavirus pandemic struck, farmers obtain 60 p.c of their tobacco funds in United States {dollars} – money in hand they accumulate on the public sale flooring. The opposite 40 p.c is paid out in Zimdollars, Zimbabwe’s native forex, which is wired into their financial institution accounts.


The present discontent farmers are voicing in direction of tobacco funds is rooted within the 40 p.c steadiness that’s paid in Zimdollars and the longer ready intervals for truly receiving it [File: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters]

When time is actually cash

On the floor, 60 p.c cost in international alternate is an enchancment over final yr, when tobacco farmers acquired solely 50 p.c of their cost in US {dollars}.

The present discontent is rooted within the 40 p.c steadiness that’s paid in Zimdollars and the longer ready intervals for truly receiving it.

When tobacco farmers promote their crops, the Zimdollar cost is calculated on the official alternate price, which continues to path the black market price. On a latest Monday, for instance, the official alternate price was 85 Zimdollars to $1. The black market price was a far much less beneficiant 130 Zimdollars to $1.

What’s extra, that hole can widen abruptly from day after day, that means the longer farmers have to attend for Zimdollar funds, the better the danger that the black market price turns in opposition to them, basically eroding their actual income.

The upshot: that wait time can actually value them cash, leaving many tobacco farmers deeply disgruntled by the present association.

Persuade Mubvumbi is a 33-year-old tobacco farmer from Bindura, roughly 66km (41 miles) north of Harare. He says he doesn’t agree with the brand new cost regime as a result of all of the supplies he must farm – from seeds and fertiliser to tools – are priced in US {dollars}, not Zimdollars.

“I’m not blissful in any respect with the brand new cost system,” Mubvumbi advised Al Jazeera exterior the Tobacco Gross sales Flooring, the place he too was ready to obtain cost for his crops. “Once I get US {dollars} equal in RTGS [Real Time Gross Settlement dollars, also known as Zimdollars] on the official price, it means I’m shedding worth,” he stated, punching a conversion right into a calculator to indicate the pitiful conversion. “The alternate price is de facto hurting us.”

Mubvumbi stated that again in 2009, his tobacco crop earned him $6,000 at public sale – sufficient to purchase cows and maize seed to develop crops to feed them, in addition to different gadgets.

“We have been capable of construct first rate homes and purchase vehicles and develop maize. All the pieces was good,” he stated.

That every one modified in 2016, when Zimbabwe’s economic system was dollarised and the central financial institution – in an effort to relaunch an area forex – launched bond notes, a surrogate forex that authorities stated had the identical worth because the US greenback, however that backfired spectacularly by feeding a speculative frenzy that continues to roil the Zimdollar to this present day.

Final yr, Mubvumi says he accepted a value of $2,000 for his tobacco crops at public sale, $1,000 of which he acquired in arduous money with the steadiness paid to him in Zimdollars transformed on the official alternate price.

“Once I transformed the forex [Zimdollars] on the black market into US {dollars}, I had solely $400,” he stated, that means in actual phrases, his $2,000 agreed value was actually value solely $1,400 in actual phrases.

He fears he’ll get the identical deal this yr as properly.

The Zimbabwe Tobacco Affiliation argued in a latest report that tobacco farmers ought to obtain not less than 70 p.c of their gross sales funds in US {dollars}, on condition that some 70 p.c of the upfront, enter prices they face are in US {dollars} [File: Mike Hutchings/Reuters]

Pleading for a greater deal

In a latest report, the Zimbabwe Tobacco Affiliation, a commerce group for farmers, questioned the viability of the present funds regime. The Affiliation argues that tobacco farmers ought to obtain not less than 70 p.c of their gross sales funds in US {dollars}, on condition that some 70 p.c of the upfront, enter prices they face are in US {dollars}. In addition they contend that the 40 p.c Zimdollar cost additional compounds the monetary ache they’re enduring.

“We plead with the authorities to overview the international forex retention stage earlier than the beginning of the promoting season,” stated the affiliation. “Enhancing growers’ viability is paramount in guaranteeing the focused progress within the sector is achieved and the nation realises improved international forex inflows.”

Tobacco is a vivid spot in Zimbabwe’s long-beleaguered agricultural sector, with gross sales anticipated to extend by 8.7 p.c this yr to 200 million kilogrammes due to the very best rains in three years, based on official forecasts.

Tobacco exports herald desperately wanted international forex – some $782m final yr, based on the nation’s central financial institution.

Tafadzwa Muringai, a 36-year-old farmer from Banket, a city 94km (53 miles) northwest of Harare, echoed the emotions of Batwero and Mubvumbi.

“The farmers who have been paid in US {dollars} when the economic system was nonetheless dollarised did very properly for themselves. They’ve tractors and vehicles and hectarage is healthier,” he advised Al Jazeera, including that he thinks the authorities are leveraging the pandemic to provide farmers a worse deal now. “Once I go to the market, I’m purported to be happy. However I’m not.”