Tobacco sales floors have attracted more than just tobacco farmers as the selling season hits Harare.
Bars and pubs near the floors are frequented with farmers who come in to spend their hard earned cash. The entertainment industry also booms with the Extra Mile leisure spot near Boka Tobacco Floor is always packed with people flocking to see different artists perform live. Prostitutes also claim their slice of the cake. But it’s the vendors who are really taking advantage of the arrival of the small-scale farmers from near and remote parts of the country to try to make a profit from their golden leaves.
Vendors head to different trading places including the Boka Tobacco Floors along Masvingo Road, Tobacco Sales Floor along Gleneagles Road in Workington and Premier Tobacco Auction Floors along Simon Mazorodze Road.
It is still early days in the selling season but already traders of various wares outside the auction floors are smiling. The tobacco market, now dominated by small-scale farmers, provides them with a large customer base. Vendor Tendai Gumbo explains, “Some farmers are coming from the most remote areas of the country, like Hurungwe, so we save them from the hassle of having to go into town and provide the goods they need at their market place.” Gumbo sells airtime, phone accessories and pesticides at Mbare Musika when the auction floors are closed. He says his profits have doubled, “At the peak of the tobacco selling season farmers spend much and in the end we pocket big bucks.”
Takesure Mutamba from Southley Park has a flea market opposite Boka. He is also very content with what he is earning. “The trick is to do a bit of market research and provide what farmers will always want to buy.” Mutamba said most farmers only have an opportunity to come to Harare when they sell their tobacco as the plant requires full attention all year round. “Almost everyone needs to buy school uniforms for their children so this is what I sell to them,” he said.
Some traders are also setting up credit schemes for farmers who would not yet have sold their produce. Farmers may spend their days sleeping outside the floors guarding their tobacco while waiting for a chance to get in and sell. During this time they need food and other basic necessities. Some travel with no change of clothes even thus vendors lend to them only to be paid back later at a higher price than buying with cash.
By many accounts, vendors make a bit of a killing off the farmers, selling products at double what they would have bought them for in the city centre. Interests charged on the loans are very high while some work hard to fleece the farmers of their hard earned cash. Chipo Bimha, who has been trading at Tobacco Sales Floor for the past five years, says, “I have seen many farmers being sold fake products while others get changed fake money after buying with a higher denomination. It’s hard to trace who is real and who is not so one just has to open their eyes when buying or selling here.”
The tobacco industry remains the most lucrative agricultural production unit as cotton is largely under paid. On the maize front, main buyer, the Grain Marketing Board struggles to pay farmers. Tobacco is proving to be the winning crop and the vendors are claiming their share of the takings.