By Lynette Manzini
Tobacco Auction floors have escalated safety measures in a bid to stifle the spread of COVID-19 ahead of the 2020 marketing season commencing next Wednesday.
COVID-19 has caused turmoil around the world with 24 cases confirmed in Zimbabwe, instigating the government of Zimbabwe to set up minimum standards to ensure safety for farmers, merchants and workers at the auction floors.
Zimbabwe is currently under a 21 day lockdown, to curtail the spread of COVID-19 which elapses two days before the tobacco marketing season begins.
In an attempt to accommodate farmers who planted the crop late as a result of the dry spells, the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board moved the marketing season from March to April 2020.
Tobacco is the second largest foreign currency earner in the country after mining but the industry has experienced a drop of farmers who registered to grow tobacco to 145 864 from 169 875 due to viability challenges.
In an exclusive interview with Radio VOP the Boka Tobacco Floors managing director Chido Nyakudya said, their floor had implemented the safety regulations and are ready for the marketing season.
“We are working under guidelines that have come from the ministry of health, ministry of agriculture, Tobacco Industry Marketing Board.”
“We have changed our whole set up to make sure that we adjust and do not spread COVID-19 here.”
“Basically from our own staff we are making sure they are social distancing, minimal staff is coming to work, they all have masks and measures to protect the farmers have been put into place,” Nyakudya said.
Asked whether the enforced lockdown in Zimbabwe and around the world will affect the trade of the golden leaf Nyakudya said, “All our merchants who buy from our floor have confirmed that they will come and buy. Remember the tobacco cycle is not instant- the day it’s bought is not the day it gets exported.”
A Chivhu based tobacco farmer, Andrew Gonah who has been growing tobacco since 2014 expects the auction floors to uphold the health of the farmers and to decisively deal with human traffic that normally causes congestion.
“Hopefully the authorities will put in place all the necessary measures to make sure we are safe.”
“Removal of non essential personnel such as vendors from the floors should be a priority because they cause unnecessary congestion,” he said.
Gonah is resolute that an expeditious system of paying farmers will reduce human traffic at the auction floors and in turn restrain the spread of the deadly virus.
However, the Boka Tobacco Floors managing director said she was expecting to pay each farmer within a period ranging from two hours to 24 hours at her floors.
“It all depends on whether the transfer is internal or RTGS, all those factors are not within our control but worst case scenario 24 hours.”
Tobacco is the second largest foreign currency earner in the country after mining.