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Hopes in Zimbabwe for Success in Tobacco Farming Lead to Disappointment


Resettled farmers in Zimbabwe who've ventured into tobacco farming say bringing their produce to the sales floors in Harare is a nightmare. They complain farming the golden leaf has left them destitute and disheartened rather than enriching them, which they'd hoped for. Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Safari Njema in Harare says over the past two years tobacco farmers have been working hard, hoping the crop that transformed the lives of their predecessors would turn them into wealthy citizens.

They soldier on despite unreliable rainfall and a lack of inputs… continuing to hope for a brighter future. But the grim reality of their daily plight is clearly visible for everyone to see.

As one enters Harare from Beatrice it's impossible not to notice the sheer number of people milling around the giant Zitec auction floors, popularly known as the Boka Tobacco Auction Floors.

This giant building with its red brick walls and blue metal roof was conceived by the late Roger Boka, who dreamt of building the biggest African auction floor in the world. Indigenous farmers say it's ironic they are getting so little from a structure that promised so much.

Two mobile toilets at the auction floor are in a terrible state, prompting farmers to use the nearby bush, which is enveloped in a terrible stench.

Thirty-six-year-old Joyce Wutawunashe explains she cultivates the golden leaf with her husband at Buta farm, near Marondera. The mother of three says she's been at the auction floors for more than a week, waiting for her payment to be processed. Joyce says she has no more money to spend. As the current withdrawal limit is 100 billion [Zimbabwe] dollars daily, Joyce says she's a sitting duck:

"We left children in the rural areas who are starving. We don't have any money. The money we are getting from the bank is too little, it doesn't mean anything. The children we left need our attention. They need food, they need to go to school so if the bank could give us a little more money as a withdrawal, it would help us a lot because we are starving here. We are staying in the cold for many nights."

There are no showers at the facility. 49-year old Michael Mhofu from Madziwa complains he's been here a week without taking a bath. He says he's spent all his money and has nothing left, so he can't visit his ailing mother, "We are being forced to go to ordinary shops to go and cash our cheques. So I don't believe we will have enough money to buy inputs."

The farmers spend the greater part of the night sitting around small fires. Some share the few blankets they have while sleeping in the open. Then they wash their clothes in the nearby Mukuvisi river and hang them on a boundary fence to dry.

The story is the same at the Tobacco Sales Floor, situated in the Willowvale Industrial area. It's an empty space supported by robust metal poles, covered with an iron roof. It's since been turned into a temporary shelter for many new tobacco farmers, who spent at least a week waiting for their payments.

Asked to comment on the payment system, an official at the Zitec Sales Floors who requested anonymity, said they're following government orders not to give cash to farmers. Instead payments are made directly into farmers' bank accounts. He said they've requested that the Reserve Bank back up the bank withdrawal threshold, especially for tobacco farmers.