By William Kumwembe:
Tobacco farmers in some parts of the country have hailed market operator AHL Group for opening tobacco receiving centres in hard-to-reach rural areas to facilitate easy flow of the leaf to main auction floors.
At the beginning of this season, AHL Group opened centres at Muhunju, Mbalachanda, Kanjuchi, Mwazisi and Lufita to facilitate remote booking and easy transportation of tobacco for the farmers.
The system has helped farmers save time and costs.
Farmers are able to remotely access seller-sheets for their tobacco and other information and services they would access at the auction floors.
Using a mobile phone code, farmers can also track the flow of the tobacco to the market.
Some farmers we spoke to during a media tour in the Northern Region for instance, said the new system was helping them cut costs, among other advantages.
Marry Botha, a tobacco farmer from Zilinga Village, Traditional Authority Chikulamayembe, in Rumphi District, said opening of the new centre at Mwazisi has helped her concentrate on her core duty of production.
She said, prior to introduction of the centre, she could spend more money on transportation per bale owing to extra charges by transporters.
She said, in some instances, by the time the leaf was reaching the market, some tobacco would be damaged and lost due to poor handling and management.
“Now with these receiving centres, we are confident that we would maximise on profit because the cost of transporting the leaf to Mzuzu Auction Floors has come down. We are only paying what we are required by the regulator, no extra charges,” Botha said.
Another farmer, Chimwemwe Gondwe, of Chiunduke Village in the same area, who has been growing tobacco since 2007, spoke highly of the system.
She said previously, the expenses were high and now the cost would narrow and this would give them ample time to concentrate on other productive areas of the supply chain.
She said, upon reaching the centre, tobacco is ferried to the aution floors within two or three days.
The Mwazisi centre has capacity to hold over 400 bales and, from May to date, the centre has facilitated flow of nine trucks of the tobacco worth 400 bales each to the Mzuzu Auction Floors.
Mzuzu Auction Floors Manager, Happy Mugala, said the system had proven efficient and effective.
“With opening of the receiving centres, several challenges have been minimised. With our initiative, the transport cost is only legitimate and accepted by the industry as a whole, there are no extra charges by the transporters,” Mugala said.
He said AHL planed to open other centres across the country.