The Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet) recommendation for government to suspend the integrated production system (IPS) and return to the auction system in tobacco value chain should be taken seriously. Since government allowed tobacco buyers to be using farmers to grow tobacco in what is termed as integrated production system (IPS), tobacco growers have been getting a raw deal.
This system has worked to the advantage of the buyers who control the growers. As the Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet) National Director TamaniNkhono-Mvula has rightly noted the “framework gives more marketing controlling powers to the buyers while reducing farmers to mere tenants.”
Tobacco growers have been deluded into thinking that the system works to their advantage just because tobacco buyers give them farm inputs and give them first priority to sell their tobacco. But they are oblivious of hidden costs such as transport, not to mention other adverse factors such as weather. The reality is that many tobacco farmers end up spending more than what they are given.When one includes other issues such as deductions, low prices, inflation, currency fluctuations, unfavorable contract conditions farmers are hit below the belt because all these conspire to work against the growers.
In the event that the farmers fail to repay the loans due to factors beyond their control the loan is not written off and so farmers become indebted to tobacco buyers.At the end of the day, tobacco buyers are the ones who benefit, not to mention the contract which farmers are made to sign without understanding it.
The picture that emerges is that tobacco farmers are working for tobacco buyers. The system is not different from the current tenancy system that government is trying to discourage. It is just that the other system is refined because farmers get assistance from buyers.
Nkhono-Mvula is right when he asserts that if the “IPS continues to be administered in its current form, the tobacco buying companies will completely take over the control of tobacco market value chain as they currently seem to have powers in determining who produces tobacco in the country”.
Government needs to move swiftly to stop the system. It should not be suspended, but stopped altogether for the benefit of tobacco farmers. In fact, it was not a good idea to allow tobacco buyers to be involved in growing tobacco. The IPS is benefitting the buyers more than the growers because of it is rigged (among other disadvantages). For example, tobacco farmers exclusively sell tobacco to buyers just because they got farm inputs.
Farmers have complained for too long about getting a raw deal from buyers but the problems are far from over. Why should buyers always be allowed to have an upper hand?It is high time the Ministry of Agriculture, the Tobacco Control Commission and other interest groups reformed the tobacco industry for the benefit of farmers.