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Poor start for tobacco sales at Limbe floors

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By William Kumwembe:

Disgruntled! This could best describe tobacco farmers’ reaction to the start, yesterday, of sales at Limbe Auction Floors, where the green gold rolled out on a low, with growers lamenting low prices and high rejection rate.

Price tags seen on tobacco sold under auction farming on the opening day ranged from $0.90 (K672) per kilogramme (kg) to $1.40 (K1,045) per kg.

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Most bales were tagged ‘no sale’ for purported poor quality, among other factors.

On one of the rolls, out of 35 bales only nine were bought as the other 26 were rejected for an unspecified reason.

This did not go down well with farmers, who eventually abandoned the sales, demanding improved trends.

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One of the tobacco farmers told a group of his peers that he brought to the market 13 bales but sold one only at $0.90 per kg.

Another farmer, Edson Katundu from Mayaka in Zomba, said there was no hope on the market this season.

He brought six bales to the market, of which only two were bought at $0.90 and $1.40.

“I have no idea about the future. With the start, I have no hope for the market this season. I brought six bales, only two have been bought and the rest have been rejected. Surprisingly, this is quality leaf,” Katundu said.

Another farmer, Keston Paudala, observed that most of the tobacco sold was of better quality, and was surprised by rising cases of rejection.

“We believe that we are being punished for being auction growers. If buyers are not ready, they would rather not buy,” Paudala said.

For over two hours, officials were locked up in a meeting in an attempt to address the situation, as the farmers desperately waited within the floors.

A verdict to resume sales would, however, still not bring a smile on the faces of the farmers, as average prices remained $0.90 after re-opening the market at 11:45am.

Bales with ‘no sale’ tags were also still visible, especially at the auction section.

Ironically, Minister of Agriculture, Joseph Mwanamvekha, who officially opened the market amid high hopes, only toured the contract selling section where the situation was calm.

Tobacco prices on the contract side ranged from $0.90 to $2.30.

“We are committed. We expect the market to stabilise. Currently, farmers are selling the lower leaf and the situation would improve,” Mwanamvekha said.

Figures he provided show that, on the opening day, 4,271 kgs of tobacco were to be traded at Limbe Auction Floors alone.

Since the start of the market last week, over 2,933,54 kgs of tobacco were bought, of which, 2,130,467 were sold at Lilongwe Floors and the rest at Chinkhoma Floors.

Tobacco is Malawi’s principal foreign exchange earner but for many years, its prices have been declining due to many factors, including worldwide anti-smoking lobby.

However, Malawi is yet to find an alternative cash crop that can fetch more money like tobacco.

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