TOBACCO is Zimbabwe’s top foreign currency earner, accounting for at least a third of the country’s total foreign currency earnings. The Financial Gazette (FG) this week spoke to new player Ethical Leaf Tobacco (ELT) which has made a positive impact on in the sector, FG speaks to ELT Public Relations Officer, Solomon Mangwiro (SM) about the company and the tobacco selling season.
FG: What are the achievements of Ethical Leaf Tobacco since you started?
SM: We have done well in our maiden season of running an out-grower scheme from production to marketing. We have achieved a top price of $5,60 per kg for the best quality tobacco on offer on our contract sale. The response from growers who believed in us in our first season as a company was in itself a humbling experience. We brought a new dimension in customer care that saw the dignity of our valued smallholder growers being restored when they came to the market their crop, by the respect and hospitality we offered them. The majority of our growers managed to pay back the loans and retained significant earnings for their own development. This has been made possible due to spirited team work and a priceless work exhibited by Head office and Field services Team ably led by David Machingaidze who is the founder and chief executive officer of Ethical Holdings group.
He is a social entrepreneur whose motivation is the empowerment of the smallholder tobacco farmer through customer service excellence and is also a Harvard Business School and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate with vast experience in industry and commerce.
FG: What is your overview of the selling season 2016-2017?
SM: In general the pricing regime that has been firm and fair with average prices for contract and auction sales being $2,99 and $2,85 per kilogramme respectively, the national average being $2,96. However, the season had its highs and lows.
FG: What are the highs and lows?
SM: There were more success stories as compared to challenges. However we will give you a synopsis of the troughs and crests that we navigated though our journey to where we are today. First, the major highlight of our community empowerment programs where we partnered with Chinhoyi High School in the National Sports gala held at the school. The sight of delighted growers holding their sales sheets was a humbling sight. The growers capped it all by making our jingle a ringing tone on their mobile phones to cement the relationship. We have a staff empowerment program where staff will have an opportunity to grow a crop with the assistance of the company a first in the industry. Second, one of the main challenges was that of farmers wanting to access cash despite having money in their accounts, thereby spending more days on the floors. This was caused by the lack of appreciation and resistance to alternative payment systems such as Point of Sale machines (commonly referred to SWIPE). On the other hand farmers who wanted to use plastic money were let down by non-availability of the gadgets in their farming communities causing inconvenience. However ELT is partnering a company that is developing solutions to make these electronic gadgets available at a farming community level to improve the ease of doing business. The project will be tested during the offseason so that come marketing time, the technology will be fully rolled out (subject to regulatory approval).
FG: What’s the projected future of ELT?
SM: We have a vision 2030 whereby we envisage ELT to be the preferred contractor by the tobacco smallholder growers. The brand will be the torch bearer on the management of tobacco out-grower schemes where our relationship with growers will be the pride of tobacco growers and our business relationships with stakeholders will be the envy of many industry players.