Tobacco farmers stuck

It is totally unacceptable that tobacco farmers should be sleeping in the cold, in Lusaka, because they have no market to sell their crop.

They have travelled all the way from various parts of the country at great cost to find a market for their tobacco in Lusaka only to find themselves stranded with their produce because there is no market.

We have always emphasized that Government should take more care of  farmers who are doing a commendable job in contributing towards the economic well being of our country.

We have said before and would like to repeat that it is not fair that farmers are always exposed to natural and market vagaries. The Government should make every effort to ensure that sufficient intelligence is gathered to ensure that farmers do not labour in vain.

This means that agriculture officers including their extension teams must follow and offer support and advise as farmers prepare to plant, tend and harvest their crops so that emerging problems are dealt with expeditiously.

It is not good enough for  the Ministry to stand aloof and watch as farmers, who may not have full knowledge in terms of crop choice, market opportunity and indeed husbandry are left  to operate without appropriate guidance.

This void of expert advice had led to very disastrous result.

Two years ago, the plight of cotton growers was highlighted when prices collapsed and farmers were left with tones of cotton which they sold below the production cost. Some of the farmers ended in negative payments as their indebtedness from inputs was in excess of the prices they received.

This scenario is almost repeating itself with our tobacco farmers, some of whom are now sleeping outside tobacco sales floors in Lusaka.

 There is no question that the Tobacco Association has a protocol and membership which may determine the manner in which it can deal with independent producers, who may not fit into the protocol. These are the farmers that Government must deal with as the institution or market of last resort.

Such support as we have said before must include price stabilization for crops, technology for storage and indeed post harvest to ensure value addition.

We have said before that in  the absence of a price stabilization scheme ordinary farmers suffer huge losses as even the little they earned was further diminished by deductions against in-puts they obtained from financing institutions, in some cases leaving them with negative outcomes.

It is totally unacceptable that farmers who have spent months tending to their crops should  be made to sleep in the cold as they wait to reap the benefits of their labour.

Government has a duty and responsibility to ensure that  immediate measures are taken to reduce their physical suffering and danger to the produce they have brought at great cost to Lusaka in the hope of  earning a well deserved income.