By Tendai Munengwa
THE issue of side marketing remains a major cause for concern in the tobacco industry with farmers raising alarm over the illegal practice, which has seen thousands of free growers allegedly being swindled by some contractors.
A database gleaned by ZBC News has confirmed that over 2 000 free growers have been forced to side-market their leaf to different contractors in breach of the law.
The side marketing has become so rampant in the country’s tobacco greenbelts with growers from of Mashonaland East and Manicaland provinces accusing contractors of duping them.
“We grow free Tobacco here but some contractors approached us and offered us good prices which lured most of us. So, we sold the leaf there. They promised to pay us, but up to now it’s a week of empty promises,” said a duped farmer.
“These contractors are sending their agency to buy tobacco which they did not contract. And we are using illegal means to sell because our grower numbers are not on contract,” said another farmer.
There are also allegations that some tobacco contracting companies, among them Sub-Sahara, are yet to pay farmers for the delivered crop, a position the company admitted.
“We have received those complaints and we apologise to our farmers for the hiccups. Those not paid will start receiving their proceeds beginning now,” said Mr Tapiwa Masedza, director of Sub Sahara Tobacco Company.
Responding to the allegations, Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) spokesperson Chelesani Tsarwe described side marketing as a sophisticated game which the regulatory authority is working day and night to overcome.
“We are aware of the rate at which side marketing is happening but we have been working around the clock to curb it. This is a trick area which cannot be eradicated overnight we call on farmers to continue reporting any form of side marketing. We have weeded out some of the elements who were side marketing and it remains a crime if any contractor is found side marketing. TIMB will look into complains raised by farmers so that it can be resolved in the best interest of the farmers,’’ she said.
The tobacco industry has been rocked by reports of side marketing, with farmers being the most affected as they are being swindled by unscrupulous dealers.