Last week’s brief suspension of tobacco deliveries to the floors failed to ease congestion and improve the plight of farmers. The Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board had suspended all deliveries to the floors to allow merchants to clear the tobacco that was already there.
A visit to the Tobacco Sales Floor yesterday showed that thousands of farmers are still stranded in long queues of laden trucks waiting to be served amid reports of rampant corruption among the officers manning the entry points.
“The tobacco in my truck was booked for April 2 and I have been the first one in the queue for the past week yet I have not been served although there are some going through and selling their tobacco.
“I was asked to re-book after the first booking expired and here I am with a number 40 ticket since Monday.
“I have not even moved an inch,” said a transporter from Hurungwe hired to deliver the crop.
On Tuesday there was a near riot at TSF as farmers protested over the preferential treatment some new arrivals were getting ahead of those who had been at the floors for more than three weeks.
“There is one TSF employee and a security guard who are allegedly charging between US$100 and US$150 to allow people to skip the queue.
“The other disappointing issue is that there is a boom gate to control the passage of trucks but surprisingly there are some that are managing to go past it without being stopped,” a farmer from Headlands, Mr Robert Mukwezaramba said.
A transporter hired to bring the golden leaf from Matepatepa in Mashonaland Central, Mr Kasikai Nyepere said he had lost business queuing for days, as he could not just leave the tobacco outside the TSF premises.
“As you can see there is no orderly parking of trucks here. Those blocking the entrance are trying to force their way into the queue but nothing is being done to stop them.
“I have lost a lot of business but I cannot leave the farmers who hired me as they can easily incur heavy losses from theft, bad weather or even hiring another transporter to ferry their produce in,” he said.
Another group of farmers was not so lucky. The transporter they hired dumped their bales at the gate and left three days ago citing loss of business.
The farmers are sleeping in or under trucks close to their produce and relieve themselves just a few metres away from their temporary bases. They survive on food from vendors while others get it from relatives. TSF managing director Mr James Mutambanesango conceded that the situation had not been well as the booking system had not been foolproof and they were currently tightening it up.
“We have drawn a list of booked farmers that will be used from the entry point to the floor so those who are not following the queue are wasting their time. TSF has also engaged the ZRP to maintain law and order while our three buying teams start work as early as 7:30am and close at 1pm,” said Mr Mutambanesango.
He added that they were now operating on the principle of “sell today and get paid today” to allow the farmers to return to their homes early. Banks are also open until 7pm daily and at times on Saturdays too.
Mr Mutambanesango also revealed that they would soon reinforce police and security details to sniff out vendors coming into the premises interfering with the smooth flow of tobacco business.