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Experts search for tobacco alternative

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The country’s top agriculture experts met in Lilongwe on Thursday night to discuss alternative crops that could replace tobacco as the country’s foreign exchange earner, with the green gold on its death bed.

The roundtable conference on alternatives to tobacco, organised by the Malawi Agriculture Policy Advancement and Transformation Agenda (Mwapata) Institute, came barely a month after President Lazarus Chakwera told Malawians to accept the harsh reality that tobacco is a dying industry.

Making a presentation during the roundtable, political economist Blessings Chinsinga said shifting from subsistence to commercial agriculture could be critical on the way to finding alternatives to tobacco.

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“Farmers’ productivity levels continue to decline due to a combination of several factors, and increasingly worsened by the fragile climatic conditions,” Chinsinga said.

The roundtable was held under the theme If Not Tobacco, Then What?”

Mwapata Institute Research Fellow Makaiko Khonje said the country has alternative crops that could replace tobacco but that Malawi needs to put in place strategies to improve their profitability.

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A representative of farmers, Boyd Ndlovu, who is the proprietor of Kampala Estate in Mzimba, said farmers in the country were ready to start growing alternatives to tobacco so long as they have better gross margins than the green gold.

Mwapata Institute Executive Director William Chadza said the objective of the roundtable is to initiate a conversation around identifying promising agricultural value chains that can serve as alternatives to tobacco crop.

Director of Agriculture Services Alexander Bulirani said government is promoting agriculture diversification in which it is looking at a crop with high productivity, exportability and with high value.

Bulirani said government welcomes serious investors who would like to come to Malawi and do large-scale farming.

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