TIMB closes Rusape auc­tion floor

The Manica Post - - Local News - Love­more Kadzura Rusape Cor­re­spon­dent

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.

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