By Yamikani Sabola
Lilongwe, April 20, Mana: President Lazarus Chakwera says the country needs to transition from a tobacco based economy and has tasked the Ministry of Agriculture to roll out consultations with relevant stakeholders aimed at identifying a viable crop that can substitute tobacco.
Speaking on Tuesday when he officially opened the 2021 Tobacco Marketing Season at Lilongwe Auction Floors, Chakwera said it was high time the country explored other crops like industrial hemp to replace tobacco, the country’s main strategic crop which rakes in about 60 percent foreign currency earnings.
He said the future for the tobacco industry looks bleak because of international anti-smoking lobbies which are leading to a decline in tobacco trade.
He described the declining tobacco industry as a harsh reality that farmers and all other industry players needed to accept and look for alternatives.
“Tobacco use around the world is declining sharply. And by all indication, declining irreversibly. The knock on effect of this as a country is that every year, the backbone of our economy grows weaker.
“Additionally, although much of our crop is for exports, the industry relies heavily on imports that results in small margins of profit for us as a country compared to other commercial crops,” he said.
He said there was need for an exit strategy that would transition the country’s farmers from tobacco to other crops that are more sustainable and more profitable.
“I am, therefore, calling on the Ministry of Agriculture to begin consultations with all stakeholders to come up with a timeframe within which Malawi’s economy will be completely weaned of tobacco.
“We need to prepare our farmers for a more prosperous future built on other crops that are more profitable and sustainable,” he said.
Chakwera also warned various players in the tobacco industry against exploiting farmers.
He noted that tobacco farmers are living miserably yet they are key players in the tobacco production chain.
“There is gross imbalance in the bargaining power between tobacco farmers and other industry players. Farmers do not have enough of a say to what happens to their produce.
“It must be remembered that the farmer is responsible for production and in any industry that is healthy, producers have a lot of bargaining power but that is not the case for Malawi’s tobacco farmers,” he said.
Minister of Agriculture, Lobin Lowe, noted that prices tobacco buyers were offering on the opening day were encouraging.
He, however, asked the buyers to maintain the prices up to the end of the marketing season to ensure that farmers get better returns from their toiling.
A survey of the bales showed that good quality tobacco was fetching up to US$2.30 per kilogram, unlike last year’s prices which averaged US$1.54 per kilogram.
President for Tama Farmers Trust, Abiel Kalima Banda, expressed optimism that prices will be good throughout the selling season pointing out that tobacco volumes are low this year as compared to demand.
According to Ministry of Agriculture crop estimates, the country has produced 122 million kilograms of the green gold this year, against a buyer’s demand of 132 million kilograms.