For growers, the tobacco marketing season is supposed to bring them joy, a time to sit back and enjoy the fruit of their labour.
However, desperation to beat low prices means that some farmers keep spending and losing their hard-earned revenue to auction floors’ workers who demand kickbacks for better offers.
Last week, two farmers in Bwengu in Mzimba, lifted a lid on how auction floors’ workforce is eating into tobacco producers’ earnings by selling services meant to be free of charge.
Auction Holdings Limited (AHL), who own the tobacco markets in the country, say the alleged corrupt workers may not necessarily be part of their staff.
But the retort does not lessen the pain in the heart of Kenneth Msowoya of Bwengu Extension Planning Area (EPA), who claimed he was asked to pay K2 000 per bale to ensure his haul gets higher prices than the lower prices on offer that day in the 2012/2013 season.
“When the men in blue coats told me to pay K2 000 a bale, I felt it was very expensive. Though I was forced to give K42 000, two of the 21 bales were rejected while some fetched very low prices than what I expected,” alleged Msowoya in an interview, offering a glimpse of a story that saw Traditional Authority Jalavikuwa of Mzimba North, blasting AHL to bring sanity to its auction floors.
In the just ended tobacco marketing season, another farmer, Jiwawa Chisale, from the same EPA claimed surviving the swindlers from the start when he refused to pay a similar amount to service providers who were pestering him to dig deeper into the pockets just to recover identity cards submitted when he was processing his quota.
Arguing that it might not entirely be AHL staff involved in the malpractice, Mzuzu Auction Floors manager Joseph Kawinga encouraged farmers to report to authorities.
“We are not happy with the situation, our image is deeply dented and we can only encourage farmers to use Deloitte’s tip-off anonymous to report any corrupt practices at the floors,” he said.
Kawinga, however, said growers are not utilising this facility in Mzimba.