Workers grade cured tobacco at a community farm outside Harare. Picture: Reuters
If the scenes in Zimbabwe are to be believed, they do not bode well for the country's already struggling economy. Hundreds of rural farmers, the majority of whom support ailing president Robert Mugabe, clashed with riot police recently. The tobacco farmers, who up until now have continued to trade well despite the desperate economic situation, have had enough. The promised payments via the banks failed to materialise due to the cash crisis experienced in the country and it finally hit the farmers where it hurt – and they have revolted.

Tobacco is Zimbabwe’s second-largest foreign currency earner after mining.

Already agitated by the long and slow-winding queues they have to endure at the floors, tobacco farmers were angered by the banks’ failure to pay them for the delivered tobacco.

The tobacco sales floors were turned into a war zone as police fought running battles with angry farmers who were demonstrating, demanding their cash from the banks.

Police used tear gas and beat the farmers in the mayhem, which left some injured and properties destroyed.

“This situation is destroying agriculture,” one farmer said. And right she may be.

Between $20million and $40million is being lost monthly by employers through payment of wages and salaries to workers who are not productive as they are queueing at banks for cash, according to a report by Industrial Psychology Consultants.

One would hope that a viable industry like farming would be the Zimbabwe government's top priority, and it would do all in its power to ensure that the farmers are kept happy.

Tobacco farming is still lucrative, and it is still one of the few sources of hope for many farming communities in rural Zimbabwe.

The cash crisis has finally come home to roost in an industry that previously seemed exempt.

Analysts say the cash crisis is destroying informal businesses the most, and they are unlikely to recover.

Frustrated farmers confirmed that over the past month they had battled to access their money from banking halls and ATMs.

Inevitably, such desperate situations either give birth to great ideas or crime syndicates who look to profit out of Zimbabwe's misfortune on the black market.

Producers or retailers who depend on imports are being forced to pay a premium to access US dollars.

So far, Zimbabwe's tobacco production has outpaced the previous year, but the situation may be more serious than we realise.

If farmers are not paid, they are unable to pay for labour and prepare for the next season. An entire season's harvest is at risk.