Shady TIMB, BOKA Partnership Raises Fears Of Tobacco Levy Abuse

A shady deal between tobacco regulator, Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) and auctioneers, Boka Group has come under spotlight following allegations the regulator was funding operations of Boka Tobacco Floors’ out-grower scheme, Chia Growers Zimbabwe.

Chia Growers Zimbabwe is an organisation owned by Boka Group, contracting farmers to grow the Chia seed, which is a new variety said to have high nutritional value.

The mist surrounding this deal was further engendered by contrasting statements from TIMB  chief executive officer, Andrew Matibiri and Boka Tobacco Floors managing director, Chido Nyakudya while giving oral evidence before the Parliamentary portfolio on Lands and Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Settlement today.

“We do have an organisation under the Boka Group which is called Chia Growers Zimbabwe, we have a partnership with TIMB. Chia Growers Zimbabwe is not funded by TIMB, however we have a partnership with TIMB where TIMB is funding tobacco growers to be trained to produce chia,” said Nyakudya.

Further probed on the source of funds TIMB used to finance Chia Growers Zimbabwe Nyakudya said, “We can not comment on where TIMB is getting the funding.”

When Matibiri was asked on the matter, he declined funding the chia project, leaving an agitated Gokwe Nembudziya legislator Justice Mayor Wadyajena to re-appear before the committee as he had failed to provide answers to a host of other issues pertaining TIMB.

“As TIMB we are assisting one company in terms of identifying companies,  we are assisting by identifying farmers. The idea of growing chia came through Boka. We are not funding it, no, not partnership, we are just organizing farmers who want to produce chia,” said Matibiri.

This has confirmed suspicions by tobacco grower associations of foul play and misappropriation of funds from the tobacco levy by the TIMB.

Meanwhile Zimbabwe Tobacco Association chief executive, Rodney Ambrose bemoaned the prevalence of contract growing which he said is neutralizing tobacco farmers’ bargaining position, as over 70 percent of total tobacco is contracted.

“We are of the idea of a afre market system, the auction floors as we call it, this contract growing is making other people who are not farmers to gain immensely from our efforts as farmers,” said Ambrose.

Industry players have already predicted a much lower yield to that registered last year following erratic rainfall but however envision better quality on the backdrop of generally warmer weather conditions which prevailed this season.