Growing pains: Tobacco farmers in Zimbabwe sleep at sales floors as payment delays
MOUD Mabuwa, 32 sleeps uncomfortably on the concrete floor, with her head carefully rested on a small bag while her baby crawls towards a shade where dozens of crestfallen farmers impatiently wait for their payment.
It is a Friday at 1pm and Mabuwa a tobacco farmer from Guruve, 150km North of Harare, has been camped here for nearly a week after selling six bales of tobacco at Tobacco Sales Floors.
Her hair unkept and without a bath for days, Mabuwa yearns to go back home to her warm bed.
But not until she gets paid.
Mabuwa’s 24-month-old baby has also run out of food, and she cries often.
The 32-year-old mother of two is among dozens of farmers waiting to get paid.
“I came on Sunday last week, sold my tobacco on Tuesday but i am yet to get my money. They say there is an error that is happening with the vouchers,” Mabuwa told The NewsReport.
Evenings are the toughest for the mother of three, who left two other children under the care of a neighbour.
“I just sleep here on the floor; I am suffering here. They are saying they are fixing the problem, but this is not right. They should help us get our vouchers on time,” she said.
With money for upkeep running out and banks delaying releasing funds, Mabuwa says she fears her baby will catch a cold.
Nursing mothers clutching babies could be seen sitting in the courtyard at Tobacco Sales Floors, while men mill around aimlessly anticipating good news from merchants.
Vendors have also gone out of business as payments delay.
Annie Kanda, 54 from Guruve says complained about farmers’ treatment at the floors.
“I have been here for the past 5 days. We slept inside the floors. I hope that I will manage to get my money soon. The payment vouchers are delaying.
There are some people who sold their tobacco when I came, they are yet to get their money also. It is delaying.
This treatment is bad, yesterday they said we should sleep outside but we protested. You just find somewhere to sleep until the next morning, there are no showers also,” lamented Kanda.
Peter Mafios of Dande says Ethical Tobacco Merchants had failed to process his new account.
“I sold my tobacco on Monday, but until today there is no movement. I sold my tobacco to Ethical Tobacco who encouraged me to open a new account. They said the account was faulty. When they told us to get new accounts, we got here when it was already late-so we had to sleep. Since then, I have been waiting,” Mafios said.
“We don’t have power to change this, we are just waiting for Monday to get money. We don’t have problems with the price but delays happening with vouchers.”
Zimbabwean tobacco farmers have faced perennial payment problems with some spending two weeks at the floors where they risk losing personal belongings to thieves.
“I am aware of perennial challenges and complaints by farmers and other actors along the whole value chain. The rebranded TIMB must consider those issues holistically and find long-lasting solutions,” Agriculture Minister, Anxious Masuka said.
Despite government commitment to solve farmers’ problems at the floors, their cries, remain muffled.
Tobacco is one of Zimbabwe’s top foreign currency earners, raking in over US$1 billion last season.
Government is looking to transform the sector into a $5 billion industry by 2025. This year farmers will get paid 75% in foreign currency with rest disbursed in local currency.
But farmers continue to toil on and off the field until they get their dues.
As for Mabuwa, the concrete slab-uncomfortable as it is-will be her bed until she is paid.