TIMB closes Rusape auction floor
THE Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board has stepped in to stamp its authority by shutting down Agritrade Leaf Tobacco (ALT) operations in Rusape following allegations of corruption, duping and ill-treating farmers.
Agritrade Leaf Tobacco, which had hogged the limelight for the wrong reasons since the beginning of the tobacco marketing season closed shop this week.
TIMB spokesperson Mr Usheunesu Moyo confirmed the suspension of the ALT Rusape auction floors pending investigations, but refused to divulge further details saying it would jeopardise investigations.
“Yes TIMB has suspended the operations of Agritrade Leaf Tobacco in Rusape. It is a board decision. This follows a number of allegations being levelled against the company by farmers, and it is unfortunate that apart from this confirmation, I can not disclose the nature of allegations because it will prejudice investigations. We will only avail the details to the media once the investigations are complete.
“The allegations are not only coming from farmers, but other operators in the industry are accusing Agritrade Leaf Tobacco of promoting side marketing. Their auction floor which operates in Harare is open, we only suspended the one in Rusape,” said Mr Moyo.
The Manica Post understands that angry farmers have held a number of protests at company’s premises in Rusape decrying the manner in which it was conducting its business.
The company was accused of illegally deducting insurance claims from farmers who had not joined the said insurance scheme, late payment of procured tobacco and ill treatment of tobacco growers.
The company’s employees were also accused of demanding bribes from farmers to get better prices for their gold leaf, among other allegations.
Other stakeholders in the industry also reported Agritrade Leaf Tobacco to TIMB accusing it of sponsoring side-marketing by buying tobacco financed through contract-farming.
It is an offence under Section 24(1) (b) of the Farmers Stop-Order Act, Chapter 18.11, for a farmer to divert crops produced under contract farming to avoid payment of loans advanced and several farmers in Rusape have been jailed for that illegal practice.
Federation of Young Farmers Clubs Manicaland coordinator and Headlands farmer Mr Farai Mapfumo said farmers are happy that TIMB has intervened and cracked the whip against Agritrade Leaf Tobacco.
Mr Mapfumo said the company had caused untold suffering among farmers, forcing some of them to considering quitting tobacco farming.
He said TIMB should maintain heavy presence on all auction floors as there are a lot of irregularities taking place during this selling season.
Such irregularities, he said, demoralise farmers.
“Farmers are so bitter with Agritrade because their operations were akin to daylight robbery. Some farmers have complained to us and are so demoralised to the extent that they are seeing no value in farming tobacco. Farmers have been duped and suffered huge losses because of the company’s illicit deductions and other demands. The company was deducting an insurance fee on farmers who never applied for the scheme, and we do not know where that money was going.
“It is so disheartening that on top of the unfair pricing regime, the company further ripped off the farmers through such unfair deductions. The deductions were costly and we had incidents where some farmers were left without even bus fare to take them back home. TIMB has done the right thing to suspend this company but they must swiftly react to farmers concerns and queries before things get out of hand,” said Mr Mapfumo.
Efforts to get a comment from Agritrade Leaf Tobacco managing director Mr Cephas Rukweza were fruitless as his mobile number was repeatedly unreachable.