It is only in the land of the dead where things remain entirely the same. In the world of the living, things change; and the living must continually change in order to adapt to their environment.
A few weeks ago, there was a radio interview in which some tobacco farmers in Kasungu declared that they will never stop growing tobacco unless government should tells them to. These remarks come in the wake of a series of poor market seasons for the touted green gold.
Perhaps the most known use of tobacco is smoking, but there are other uses that may not be obvious to many. Extracts from tobacco are also used as active ingredients in insect repellants, gardening products and medical drugs.
However, due to the international outcry against smoking the demand for tobacco is reducing. Basically, countries that produce tobacco laden products such as insecticides would rather buy tobacco from their local farmers than buy from Malawi.
The growing opposition to the use of tobacco and its products within human environments has led to countries like Bhutan imposing a ban and harsh penalties on growing, producing and selling tobacco and its related products; and whether or not to ban the use of tobacco products in many countries across Europe and America.
It is therefore less surprising that the market for tobacco is doing badly, even as the farmers themselves acknowledged before making their audacious statements. At the same time, due to excellent market performance of the crop in the past, many farmers and opportunists have joined the trade leading to overproduction.
One thing that is clear is that tobacco is not a main food crop; it is a cash crop. By definition, a cash crop is a crop that is grown to generate money out of. Producing cash crops is a business, where the farmer invests an amount of money expecting a profit.
In business, if a product is not doing well on the market, the producer may have to abandon the product or reposition themselves.
The only conclusion one can draw from these farmers is that they regard tobacco farming as an obligation to the state rather than a business activity. Regardless of the diminishing returns for their endeavours they do not see a reason to change.
On the same matter, government did speak last week through the Minister of Agriculture, George Chaponda. Chaponda is quoted by the media as saying that Malawi cannot stop growing tobacco because there is no substitute crop to replace tobacco as forex earner.
Who prescribed that a country’s forex earner should be a crop? After all, isn’t agriculture the production sector that produces raw materials for manufacturing? And don’t manufactured products fetch higher market prices than raw materials? Should Malawi therefore stay its mind on selling raw materials and not consider adding value to its produce through manufacturing?
On tobacco as the forex earner, does government intend to earn forex at the expense of farmers? The issue here is that tobacco farmers do not make profits equivalent to the level of investment, they are losing out. It was better if they had grown maize in their arable lands, for then they would have food.
They grew tobacco instead, and they have no food and no money to buy food; and yet the price of maize went up 127 percent. Come the growing season, these same farmers will still need to buy farm inputs that are continually on the rise.
Furthermore, according to statements made at the commemoration of the tobacco growers’ day, where Chaponda made his remarks, the tobacco control body intends to cut the number of tobacco growers to about 30 percent of the current number.
If government knows no alternative crop for these farmers to grow; and if the farmers know no other crop unless that which government would advise, then the farmers have no future unless they or their government make decisive changes. Changes which they currently refuse to make.
But such is the attitude of Malawians not only in tobacco farming but many other issues. Government and its people must be brought back to the real world; for only then will they realize the need for adaptive adjustments.
Government pushes for high enrolment in schools without recruiting more teachers or building classroom blocks, and then gets angry when the media only reports a failing education system.
The Malawi Government embarks on a rural electrification program without planning for increased generation capacity, who should take the hit for the failure?
The utility suppliers, electricity corporation and water boards, have waited too long to increase their capacity up to the point that blackouts and dry taps are the order of the day.
Many Malawians continue to solely rely on producing maize as a staple food crop, even though maize alone is proving to be insufficient. While maize is an important food crop for Malawians, it currently needs to be supplemented with other food sources.
Some cultural enthusiasts refuse to let go of evidently harmful cultural practices that expose society to social and health harms. Even political leaders refuse to adjust their conveniences to match the current socio-economic situation.
Voters refuse to let the chaff go, even though experience shows very high levels of failure, they will vote them right back into office.
Malawians, at all levels, refuse to make changes; it’s like living in the land of the dead.
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