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Tobacco farmers stop sales in protest over low prices

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Disappointment by farmers with this year’s tobacco sales continue with poor prices also characterising the first day of sales at Chinkhoma Auction Floors in Kasungu Friday.

The development follows low prices and high rejection rate which the leaf has been subjected to at Kanengo Auction Floors market which opened in Wednesday.

Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) Board Chairperson Inkosi ya Makhosi M’mbelwa IV, who officially opened the Chinkhoma market, regretted the poor prices and high rejection rates and hoped that things would be better.

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“For the farmers, a fair price is the biggest expectation while for the buyers, good volumes and quality is their biggest expectation. Tobacco is contributing 60 percent of foreign exchange earnings and 25 percent of taxes.

“The tobacco industry is employing 12 percent of our population and contributing 15 percent towards our [Gross Domestic Product (GDP)]. As such, we expect that the differences that are there between the farmers and buyers will be solved amicably,” said M’mbelwa IV.

He further expressed optimism that the reforms which TCC is

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undertaking which include the review of the Tobacco Act and the growers’ legislation system will improve the tobacco sector.

However, at Chinkhoma, angry farmers stopped the sales after being frustrated with the prices which the buyers were offering and vowed that they would only continue offering their green gold if the prices improved.

One farmer from Kasungu, Geoffrey Dziko, said his association had brought 1000 bales of tobacco weighing 100 kilogramme each but only 300 bales had been bought and on $0.80 per kilogramme on average.

“With such rejection rates and poor prices, what remains of us the poor farmers? Does anyone out there care that we toil so that we should get something from our tobacco? Why is it that government is just good at speaking but not acting?” queried Dziko.

And the crisis at Chinkhoma Auction Floors was without conspiracy theories.

Some buyers’ representatives that we managed to speak with claimed that they were deliberately offering poor prices because most of the tobacco belonged to vendors who had bought the leaf from farmers.

“If you look at the quality of the tobacco, you find that it is much better than that which we usually have at the beginning of the market. It is the middle leaf that they have brought and we know that these are vendors,” said the buyers’ representative.

On the other hand, a farmer who identified herself as Melise Chibwana said that the buyers were offering poor prices and rejecting most of the leaf because they have their own tobacco and want to punish farmers who sell on auction.

“The sales have started with auction and we know that the buyers first want to get the tobacco from farmers whom they have contracts with. They are doing this deliberately because they grow their own tobacco as well,” said Chibwana.

At Kanengo Auction Floors, angry farmers also stopped sales after accusing buyers of stealing from them following poor prices and high rejection rates.

In an interview after M’mbelwa IV had officially opened the market, TCC Chief Executive Officer Albert Changaya admitted that it was frustrating to farmers to be offered such poor prices during the first days of the market.

“Buyers are offering minimum prices and this is obviously a cause for concern. The prices that they are offering are rare during the first days of the market, but there are a number of factors that could be contributing to this strange trend.

“With burley, there is overproduction and the buyers know that. We are worried that farmers are not reaping what they deserve but we will be engaging the buyers so that things improve,” said Changaya.

He added that he had invited the buyers to a roundtable discussion on the poor prices and high rejection rates which he said could be due to the fact that there could be some moisture in the leaf.

When he officially opened this season’s tobacco market, Mutharika warned the buyers against exploiting farmers, having asked the buyers to offer the minimum prices on their own.

Meanwhile, TCC has disclosed that Limbe Auction Floors will be opened 18 April while the market in Mzuzu will be opened on 25 April.

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