President Bingu wa Mutharika opened the Lilongwe Auction Floors on Monday, 26 th march, marking the beginning of tobacco sales season this year.
The opening season had been delayed for two weeks as compared to last year and Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) said it was done to allow growers to properly cure their leaf.
TCC Chief Executive Officer Bruce Munthali, said quality of the tobacco this year is far better much than the previous year and that with the delay in opening, cases of nested tobacco should be reduced.
However drama surrounded the opening ceremony as sales were suspended earlier in the morning as farmers protested against low prices with some of the leaf fetching as little as 70 cents.
The police had to intervene to end the protest as the farmers kept shouting for good prices and threw tobacco leaves in the air.
“ The quality of our tobacco is good and the prices are too low” complained on farmer
This prompted the president to issue words of wisdom to all parties involved in the buying and selling of the Malawian gold.
The President told them to avoid quarreling and said the only way to iron out the differences is through dialogue.
“The tobacco market is like any other market. It involves bargaining. It should not be a battle field,” he said
“The auction floor is not a battle field where people shoot each other,” he said.
The President also advised farmers to avoid putting unnecessary things like stones in their bales of tobacco.
“The secret to sell your tobacco at a good price is not putting in unnecessary things but taking good care of your produce” said Mutharika.
“I am told some farmers put chicken eggs, stones, and other non tobacco related materials in bales in order to fetch better prices for their tobacco. This should stop and cannot make tobacco buyers to offer better prices,” said President Mutharika.
Last year selling season was pro-longed due to high rejection rates as buyers complained of poor leaf and increased nested tobacco.
Before the beginning of the sales season TCC made slight adjustment to the 2011 minimum prices for buying tobacco at the auction floors.
In a press release, the commission said the minimum price for burley tobacco would be US$1.82, a two-cent adjustment from US$1.80 in 2011.
Flue cured tobacco is at US$2.87, up from US$2.82 while dark fired tobacco remains at US$2.14.
Limbe Auction Floors would open on March 28, Chinkhoma Auction Floors in Kasungu on April 2 and Mzuzu Auction Floors will commence trading of the leaf on April 16.
Auction Holdings Limited indicates that Malawi sold over 236 million kilogrammes of burley tobacco at an average of US$1.13 raising about US$300 million last season.
Tobacco is Malawi’s main cash crop and poor sales last year had a huge impact on Malawi’s economy and hopes are high that this season sales will improve .
During the opening ceremony the president also said that his government is planning to establish a cigarette manufacturing factory this year as one way of helping Malawian tobacco farmers who have been facing a lot of challenges selling their produce following low prices at the tobacco auction floors.
“We are working hard that this year we have a cigarette producing company” said Mutharika.
Mutharika added that the development will help farmers to enjoy good prices as all the process will be done locally by local authorities.