SAMUEL NJINGA RECENTLY IN CHIREDZI
Sugar cane farmers in Chiredzi district, Masvingo Province are feeling the heat from the high cost of agricultural input and other critical raw materials, Business Times can report.
The farmers, estimated to be more than 2 000, are also battling protracted legal disputes with Tongaat Hulett Zimbabwe over contentious milling charges.
Tongaat Hulett, which runs mills in Triangle and Hippo Valley, has been charging 23% of the total value of sugarcane milled under the division of proceeds (DOP) ratio, a practice that farmers have criticized as being punitive.
Farmers claimed that they are finding it difficult to sustain operations with this charge.
However, the government has stepped in to address the issue.
“For the past decade we always had challenges in trying to find common ground with Tongaat Hulett management. This has not been easy at all. Their payment model, which has significantly improved this year, has not been user friendly at all.
“This is one of the major issues that affects us as farmers. Previously they used to deduct almost everything from our output leaving us with virtually nothing for our families,” the chairman of Chiredzi Productive Cane Growers Association, Collen Changamire, told Business Times.
The vice chairman of the association, Morris Mhlanga weighed in saying: “I cannot say farmers and Tongaat Hullets have got a good working relationship.All I can say is that there is a remarkable improvement as far as the payment model is concerned. We are still to iron out issues to do with price as well as engaging each other in order to finalise our draft agreement. We used to get fertilizer but now they have employed a thirty day loan account facility. We used to be accorded a cane purchase model as well as an open quarter model. This is now a thing of the past.”
He added: “Tongaat manages our cash flow by obliging us to take a few amounts of the cane for milling. We are now limited in terms of quantities when selling through the cash received price.
The organization now requires us to deliver one bundle per day which is not normal. Under normal circumstances we should be delivering at least one hectare. We pray that the government keeps on intervening for progress.”
Executive member of the Chiredzi Productive Cane Growers Association, Goddard Dunira, said: “Allow me to categorically state that as long as sugar cane farmers are still borrowing inputs such as fertilisers and other inputs from Tongaat Hullets, it will remain very difficult for us to make it in life. Farmers always struggle to pay back loans from banks and money lenders who often end up assisting them with inputs.
There is a need for hatching out a solution to this anomaly otherwise farmers remain stagnant.”
An average of 150 to 200 tons per hectare are what the majority of farmers can harvest.
The lack of direct interaction with the actual directors of the organization, according to the Association, is their biggest problem.
They claimed that they were frequently directed to workers who were unable to make certain important decisions.