HARARE, April 3– The Zimbabwe government has stressed that it cannot force buyers to purchase tobacco at more than the prices being offered at the auction floors since they are determined by market forces.

Parliament was informed Wednesday by Deputy Agriculture Minister Paddy Zhanda during the National Assembly’s question and answer session that the international market determined the price of tobacco.

“Tobacco is unlike maize where government announces prices,” Zhanda said. “The price of a commodity which is not controlled is set by supply and demand.”

Zhanda’s remarks followed concern expressed by legislators that there appeared to be collusion among buyers to offer low prices.

The average tobacco price is 3.11 US dollars per kilogramme and most farmers are complaining that the prevailing prices, some of which are less than 1.0 USD per kg would not allow them to go back to the field next season.

Zhanda said the the poor quality of the crop being brought to the auction floors was affecting the price of the leaf, which is Zimbabwe’s top export.

However, the Member of parliament for Mutasa South, Irene Zindi, argued that the government should follow in the footsteps of other countries such as Malawi, which set minimum tobacco prices.

“There is no excuse for the low prices which are being paid to the farmers,” she said, adding that the fact that Zimbabwean tobacco was highly sought after in the world by cigarette manufacturers meant that farmers had to be paid viable prices.

Makoni South MP Mandi Chimene alleged that unscrupulous behaviour by middlemen was also impacting on the prices to the disadvantage of farmers.

However, Zhanda insisted it would not be prudent for government to set a minimum price for tobacco. He said other government agencies such as the police would be engaged when genuine cases of collusion were brought before the Ministry.

Meanwhile, the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) said Wednesday that beginning in June this year, it would be disbursing money from a 500,000-USD revolving fund to farmers to construct new rocket barns for curing tobacco.

TIMB chief executive officer Dr Andrew Matibiri said this while briefing members the Parliamentary Committee on Lands, Agriculture Mechanisation and Irrigation who had toured Boka and Premier Tobacco Auction Floors.

Dr Matibiri said the new barns used half the amount of firewood which farmers were using at the moment to cure tobacco. The new rocket barns, adopted from Malawi, would also use coal for energy to cure tobacco.

‘It is a national programme we will roll out starting in June. We will supply the other materials but the farmer provides bricks, labour and timber. These are also aimed at reducing deforestation since the rocket barns use less firewood,” he said.

Dr Matibiri said communal farmers were using sub-standard and makeshift barns which affected the quality of tobacco that they produced.