Valentine Marowa owns a three tonne truck he hires out to farmers ferrying their different produce to market areas in Harare. This year he has been busy with tobacco farmers from his Sengwe rural home in Hurungwe.
Early last month he was hired by Numeri Madanha to carry 20 bales to Boka Tobacco Auction Floors. “Some thieves cut the ropes that were binding the tobacco – most likely at the traffic lights in the Kopje area and six bales fell. We only noticed after we were signalled by another transporter who was following behind,” said Marowa.
Marowa turned around to recover the lost bales only to find a pick-up truck speeding away with them. He tried to pursue it but the remaining bales also started falling off. To prevent further mishap, Marowa decided to stop and protect what was left.
This is one of many incidents Marowa has come across in his four years of transporting tobacco. “Sometimes farmers return empty-handed having been conned while trying to buy furniture and supplies to take back home,” he said.
“Just last month, one of the guys that hired me lost about three thousand dollars when he purchased a car with many mechanical faults. It cost a fortune, way over its price, to fix. It broke down before he even arrived home with it.”
There are also reports of some farmers being scammed by prostitutes while waiting for their tobacco to be processed. These prostitutes work hand in hand with robbers and prey on the unsuspecting farmers. The women invite the farmers to their lodgings only to be ambushed by the robbers who are waiting to pounce. “These prostitutes receive tips of who has cash and valuables from vendors and guys who do different jobs at the floor,” said Marowa.
Media reports also indicate that there are farmers whose tobacco is rejected at the auction floors for being low quality. They are then forced to sell it makoronyera for a very low price, just to recover their expenses. Those that acquire the tobacco work with people grading the tobacco and sell it for very large sums of money.
Tobacco Farmers Union (TFU) president Tapfumaneyi Musindo said, “Every year we have hardworking farmers being ripped off. We just wish the police would do something to make sure we have a safe operating space.”
Musindo also encouraged farmers to practise extreme caution. “It is advisable to always be accompanied by someone well-versed in whatever dealings you may want to conduct,” he said.
Image: Tobacco for sale on the auction floor.