Government has bemoaned the failure of tobacco farmers to meet quantity of the leaf demanded over the past two years.
Agriculture Minister Lobin Lowe was speaking in Lilongwe recently, at the start of the 34th Tobacco Association of Malawi (Tama) Farmers Trust Annual Congress held under the theme, ‘Diversification and Value Addition for Climate Change Impact Resilience’.
“We have a demand that we are failing to meet and farmers need to produce just enough to meet that demand. We can easily calculate the cost of opportunities lost this year by looking at the difference between demand and anticipated supply in relation to the price on the market,” Lowe said.
He, however, expressed gratitude that growers are now able to produce more than 1,800 killogrammes (kg) of tobacco per hectare (ha) up from the ranges of 1,000 kg/ha before the Integrated Production System (IPS).
This, according to Lowe, is one good step in the right direction as improving productivity is key to diversification as it may allow for more land to be released to other crops.
Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Sandram Maweru said, last year, international buyers demanded 154 million kg of the green gold but Malawi only produced about 124 million.
Maweru said, this year, the buyers were demanding 161 million kg but that Malawi has only produced about 100 million kg of the green gold.
“Basically, the demand is there but supply has been on downward trajectory due to issues pertaining to the cost of inputs, as well as climatic and weather patterns.
“For example, this year, most of the farmers were affected by late onset of the rains; so, the nurseries were affected. And then came the cyclones. I think we were hit by three cyclones. And then the dry spells that hit the season,” Maweru said.
He added that although the ministry appreciates that tobacco remains Malawi’s top forex earner, it is promoting crop diversification.
Tama Farmers Trust President Abiel Kalima Banda said the future of tobacco remains bright.
“You know customers are demanding more of the crop from Malawi but we are producing less. It means the future is there.
“What I can urge my fellow growers is to go back to the field and produce more so that we meet the demand. Because if we continue to not meet the demand, the buyers may go to other countries,” Banda said.