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Tobacco farmers draw lessons from last season

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Joseph Chidanti Malunga

Apart from a fall in the sales of tobacco sales—Malawi’s major foreign exchange earner—which fell by nearly a third in 2020 compared to 2019, some farmers in Kabwafu in Mzimba District on Monday narrated about a litany of challenges contributing to the decline.

Among others, the farmers highlighted that closure of the Kwabwafu satellite depot is a big blow as they have to incur huge transport costs to sell the leaf at Mzuzu Auction Floors.

The depot was closed because it sells an average of 2,000 bales which is contrary to the new Tobacco Act, which stipulates that every market that sells less than 5,000 bales should be closed.

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One of the farmers, Traditional Authority Mpherembe of Mzimba Distict, said closure of the market has reduced the bargaining power that farmers have over their tobacco.

“When we had a market operating from here, it was a great opportunity for farmers to see what auction or direct market mean. They could bargain with the buyer for a better price. For the community around, they could come in and sell their merchandise during the market session,” he said.

Another farmer, Richard Phiri, said Covid precautionary measures that were set at the market last season were not favourable for farmers.

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Phiri felt most farmers were duped and given unfair prices despite producing quality leaf because they were not allowed to participate in the market activities.

“Some presented good tobacco but yielded peanuts and if you go around the area, most farmers are remaining with outstanding loans because their earnings were not enough to service the loans,” he said.

Another farmer Titus Malaso, said the past five years tobacco has been fetching low prices prompting more farmers to withdraw their labour.

“We grow a lot of tobacco but in return the proceeds are just enough to pay our labourers.

“It is our plea to the Tobacco Commission to make sure that every player in the tobacco industry is supported including us growers,” he said.

In his remarks Tobacco Commission Chief Executive Officer Joseph Chidanti Malunga concurred with the farmers that the issue of pricing is bigger that needs sober approach to be rectified.

“The issue of pricing is big and we have to deal with it as a commission. The demand for tobacco has been going down over the years, the morale for growing tobacco is also declining. So it’s a mosaic of issues.

“So it is our task to find out why this is the case. It is our task to find out how we can revamp the market. We need to sit down and listen to everyone else,” he said.

Meanwhile, the farmers are optimistic this season could be better than the last one.

Revenue from tobacco fell to $174.5 million in 2020 from $237 million in 2019.

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