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Lazarus Chakwera admits tobacco industry facing a crisis

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OPTIMISTIC—Minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe delivers his speech

President Lazarus Chakwera Tuesday took a bold step and told Malawians to accept the ‘harsh reality’ that tobacco is a dying industry.

Chakwera was speaking at Lilongwe Action Floors when he opened the 2021 tobacco selling season.

“What must be said and accepted is that our tobacco industry is dying, and we need an exit strategy to transition our farmers to crops that are more sustainable and more profitable,” said the President of a crop whose commercial growing dates back to 1893.

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He called on Minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe to begin consultations with all stakeholders and come up with a timeframe within which Malawi’s economy can be completely weaned off tobacco.

While admitting that many Malawians might find it difficult to imagine the country’s future without tobacco, the President maintained that the future is bright.

“I see a future in which college graduates and urban elites envy the livelihoods of rural farmers because they can afford things that a mere job salary cannot.

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“I see a future in which the term rural is not synonymous with poverty and where farming is not synonymous with subsistence. When we get to this future, the gains we now have from tobacco will pale in comparison,” Chakwera said.

Economic commentators described the President’s stand as courageous.

Economics Association of Malawi President, Lauryn Nyasulu, said the statement is timely and crucial especially coming from the highest office in the land.

Nyasulu said the issue has been discussed for long but not much action has been seen in operationalising the brilliant plans.

She said a number of potential crops including legumes and pulses have been identified and seem to have ready markets internationally.

“One thing that worked well with tobacco is the clear marketing strategy of the crop. Adequate investments were made in infrastructure and institutions to enable the economy to benefit from this crop,” Nyasulu said.

Director of economic think-tank Centre for Research and Consultancy, Milward Tobias, also described Chakwera’s speech as most sincere and progressive.

Speaking earlier, Lowe, said it is worrying to note that the grower, who is the critical element in the tobacco value chain, continues to live in poverty.

He appealed to buyers to offer better prices so that the grower benefits.

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