Distress ahead of tobacco sales
President Peter Mutharika is on Wednesday expected to officially open this year’s tobacco marketing season at Kanengo Auction Floors in Lilongwe but the most overriding feeling among farmers is that of distress and apprehension.
Past trends have shown that farmers seldom reap the ultimate fruits from their toil and they are worried that history might continue repeating itself throughout this tobacco market.
The Daily Times surveys in Lilongwe and Dowa unravelled deep-seated fears among most tobacco farmers who have since asked the government to intervene from early stages of the market so that their toil is not in vain.
Farmers who sell their tobacco through auction such as Veliamu Chapuma of Mbedza Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Chadza, Lilongwe have raised concerns that they are marginalised on the tobacco market.
“We are denied an opportunity to sell our tobacco at higher prices because we do not sell our tobacco under Integrated Production System (IPS) in tobacco farming.
“For 28 years, I have been selling my tobacco through auction and I was making a lot of profits. But since contract farming was introduced, I face problems on the market to sell the tobacco,” he said.
Chapuma said buyers should consider offering good prices during this marketing season since, as farmers are expecting to offer high-quality tobacco.
IPS is an arrangement that allows farmers and growers to partner for the purpose of achieving the desired tobacco quality.
Basically, the grower and the buyer sign a contract that enables the buyer to support the grower with all the necessary inputs, extension services and technical advice in pursuit of the best yield from the land and a high-quality crop.
However, farmers who are under IPS complain that they are never informed about the loan amount they have to pay back and they are overcharged interest on the loan.
“The company that gives us farming inputs on loan just makes deductions without consulting us and once we have finished servicing the loan, we are told to sell the remaining tobacco through auction,” said Mkomba Chizumba from Shoti Village, T/A Chakhaza, Dowa.
He said whenever they fail to pay back the loan, the companies grab their property, an arrangement they do not initially agree on.
Agriculture Minister, George Chaponda, said he could not comment on the marketing season until sales commence.
Auction Holdings Limited Corporate Affairs Manager Mark Ndipita, said their company is prepared to offer good infrastructure for farmers to sell their tobacco in this market season.
“The rejection rate for tobacco that was sold through auction was 90 percent last year and this resulted in tobacco losing quality because it was brought to the market three or four times. In addition, there is also a problem of price discrimination on the market despite the tobacco being of the same quality,” Ndipita said.
He hoped that the problems encountered in past years will not recur and farmers will be satisfied with the sales.
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