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Experts push for agricultural diversity

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There is need for collaboration among stakeholders in the agriculture produce value chain if the country’s economy is to stop relying on tobacco in the wake of its declining demand on the international market.

This is according to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World’s vice president (Agriculture and Livelihood), Jim Lutsweiler.

This follows a series of meetings the foundation, together with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) and the Africa Institute for Corporate Citizenship (AICC) is holding with various stakeholders in Lilongwe on how Malawi can stop overdependence on tobacco.

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Lutsweiler said the tobacco industry is dominated by smallholder farmers hence their decision to impress upon them the concept of exploring alternate crops.

“Global trends in tobacco consumption are treading downward so, clearly, the opportunities for smallholders to continue producing tobacco at the current rate are minimal, so we are trying to come up with viable market driven alternatives,” Lutsweiler said.

He was quick to point out that the foundation’s objective is not to stop the farmers from producing tobacco.

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He further said the transition is complex and should be driven by Malawians through policy change, opportunities of finance focusing on market driven opportunities.

AGRA Regional Head, Dybon Chibonga, highlighted thatMalawi is only a pilot project, adding it will also extend to neighbouring countries that rely on tobacco such as Tanzania and Mozambique.

He said that global trends are posing serious threats to such economies, with new technologies replacing the ordinary smoke cigarette.

“Now science is looking at producing cigarettes that are not combustible which is further reducing the ordinary cigarette business but most people are lamenting failure to act as the issues have been deliberated upon for quite some time,” Chibonga said.

AICC Chief Executive Officer, Felix Lombe, added that the move has come at the right time, with the country trying to establish policies that would ensure steady markets for agriculture produce other than tobacco.

“There are initiatives aimed at coming up with a law that would ensure we have structured markets for legumes, for example, so we believe that this is a good start for Malawi,” Lombe said.

Among others, the group met with government officials from ministries that are directly involved in tobacco production, parliamentarians, the academia, Tobacco buying companies, farmers and the civil society.

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