By William Kumwembe
Tobacco industry regulator, the Tobacco Commission (TC), has set an ambitious target of increasing tobacco output to at least 180 million kilogrammes (kg) per year within the next five years.
Last year, the country produced 118 million kg of all types of tobacco against an international market demand of 154 million kg, raking in $197.1 million, up from $174.97 million earned a year before.
TC Chief Executive Officer Joseph Chidanti Malunga said the commission was working with all stakeholders in the industry to reclaim the Malawi leaf’s international market share.
In an interview on Saturday, he said Malawi was yet to aggregate both output projection and the market demand for this season.
He, however, said chances are production would go up as the number of registered farmers has increased.
Earlier, Malawi estimated to produce not in excess of 140 million kg of all types of tobacco next season.
Malunga said increasing the output in the next five years would propel an increase in revenue from the leaf, which has for years faced challenges including climate shocks and effects of the anti-smoking lobby by the World Health Organisation.
“It is true that things are changing but big-buying companies are still investing heavily in the industry, which is a guarantee of a sustained market.
“While we maintain the existing buyers and push for an increase in volume they buy from the country, we should also explore and attract several other buyers,” Malunga said.
He said, recently, the commission courted potential buyers of Malawi tobacco from Indonesia, Morocco and Egypt at the 2020 Dubai Expo.
Malunga said the commission was also working to intensively market Malawi’s Burley tobacco which, he said, is the only rare leaf used for blending with others in every cigarette.
In a separate interview yesterday, Tobacco Association of Malawi (Tama) Trust President Abiel Kalima Banda said while it was possible for the country to increase output, the farmers’ concern always border on low prices the leaf has been fetching.
“Farmers can produce more volume. However, this depends on the prices the leaf is fetching. There has to be return on investment,” Banda said.
He then expressed pessimism over the likelihood of increased output this season due to the delayed rainfall.
Malawi, an agrarian economy, heavily relies on tobacco as its main cash crop and foreign exchange earner.