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Farmers dump tobacco for better living

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Some farmers are slowly dumping tobacco for other crops. They have been frustrated over time due to low prices of tobacco at auction floors.

Although tobacco is the backbone of the country’s economy contributing about 60 percent of Malawi’s foreign exchange and 11 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), farmers are still failing to make ends meet.

There are countless stories of tobacco farmers complaining of poor prices at the market. It is an open secret that tobacco farmers are given false hopes every year. Some have thrived in growing tobacco but the majority of them have no good stories to tell.

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Some have left tobacco and started growing crops like soya, sunflower and Irish potato. Those that grow these crops have described them as ‘wonder crops’ because few years after venturing into the farming their lives have completely been transformed.

Gift Banda, 34, who lives in Khomelanjuchi village, in Traditional Authority Kabudula in Lilongwe stopped growing tobacco in 2013 and started growing sunflower in 2014. He planted five hectares of sunflower and since then he has never regretted his choice for the crop. He is now one of the shining examples of sunflower farmers in the country.

In his first year as a sunflower farmer he got K583, 000 after selling the produce to vendors.

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His new venture of growing sunflower got a boost from Rural Livelihoods and Economic Enhancement Programme (RLEEP). He was empowered economically. In 2014, he planted 10 hectares of sunflower. He got K1.5 million from the produce. He invested the money into live stock farming.

“Since I started growing sunflower I am living decent life. I have been growing tobacco for more years but life was tough. I am able to pay schools fees for my children and also give them all the support they need,” he says.

Sunflower aside, soya beans is another crop that brings joy to farmers who have dumped tobacco. Janet Nkhoma, 53, from Mchinji is all smiles nowadays. She is able to make ends meet through soya beans and groundnuts. She says tobacco no longer brings joy to many farmers.

She grows three hectares of Tikolore Soya and groundnuts every year. At the end of the harvesting season, she gets about 35 to 50 tonnes of soya and groundnuts.

Nkhoma’s rags-to-riches story is a very rare one in Mchinji. She is a leading example to many farmers in the area. Nkhoma is no longer struggling to pay K100 000 schools fees for her children per term.

“My children enjoy better food and are healthier now than in the past. Apart from selling soya, it has also replaced meat as a source of protein for some of us in the villages,” said Nkhoma who stays in Nambera village, in Traditional Authority (TA), Mkanda, Mchinji.

Nkhoma has become a breadwinner for the family breaking traditional practice that men are breadwinners. She says growing beans and groundnuts is not difficult.

“Soya beans and groundnuts are very cheap and easy to grow because we don’t spend money on buying fertilizers like tobacco. We invest little money but yield more,” she explains.

In Ntchisi district, some farmers who have ventured into Irish potato farming are also living decent lives. They mobilize themselves to form village saving clubs popularly known as Banki Nkhonde.

Most of them invest their money into small businesses such as buying maize mills.

Through the RLEEP project, local farmers have been assisted to get better deals by establishing links with the buyers for them to fetch higher prices at the market. The farmers have been trained in village savings and are also able to access credit to buy inputs.

RLEEP is working in six districts which include Dedza, Ntchisi, Mchinji, Kasungu, Blantyre and Thyolo in the value chain for four commodities: soy beans, potato, groundnuts and milk.

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