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Tobacco heartbreak

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Tension was high at the Limbe Auction Floors on Tuesday where dejected growers, especially those on contract system, bemoaned the high rejection rate which has characterised this year’s tobacco marketing season.

Now in week 21, this year’s tobacco market has witnessed some of the highest rejection rates in history resulting in earnings from the leaf to drop by 37 percent as compared to the amount realised during the same period last year.

A visit to Limbe Auction Floors on Tuesday by The Business Time found that rejection rate had been hovering between 70 and 90 percent in the week while farmers continue to spend money to transport their tobacco to and from the auction market.

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Farmers are now disillusioned and those that confided in us are concerned that they may not be able to meet their domestic needs especially with schools scheduled to open next week.

Fanuel Kamsongole is a Zomba based farmer under auction and says out of fifteen bales which he brought to the floors in March, only seven have been bought.

“I last sold my tobacco in June, for the past two months my bales have been coming to the floors but have been rejected all this time. This is the worst year for tobacco growers especially those of us who are under contract.

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“We feel cheated because we were being encouraged to register under auction, when the authorities knew that the market is dead. We are spending more money transporting the bales to and from the auction,” said Kamsongole.

Kamsongole is now ready to dispose of his tobacco at whatever price regardless of the resources he invested to produce the crop.

“We are going to accept any price they are going to offer us unlike to take these bales back to our villages. If this was maize, we could have taken it back long time ago and fed it to our children, but with tobacco it is a different case,” he said.

Another grower, Alex Mpamba, who is under contract farming with one of the tobacco companies said the company is not fulfilling its contractual obligations.

He said the buyer s had promised to buy all the tobacco which the farmer would produce at an agreed price.

“The story is different here. The company bought a few bales and then told us to take the rest of our bales to the auction market. Here nothing is happening as bales are being rejected.

“The prices we had agreed earlier are not what they are giving us. We have been duped,” said Mpamba.

Another farmer, Mike Bandawe, from Mayaka in Zomba, says he is re-thinking on whether to continue with tobacco farming.

“I paid back the loan I got but the profit I have realised is very minimal. I am thinking on what should be my next step,” he said.

However, Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) Regional Manager for the South, Willard Singo, said the rejection rate, which was at 73.3 percent on Tuesday, is an improvement from the previous weeks.

“For the past weeks, the rejection rate had reached above 90 percent and this is an improvement. The high rejection is due to over production which the country is currently facing. The demand for this year’s tobacco from buyers was at 132 million kilogrammes while the supply was at about 165 million kilogrammes.

“This is where the main problem is, but we are trying our best to make sure that all the tobacco is sold,” said Singo.

He further said the Limbe auction market is expected to close in September.

“Our earlier plan was to close on September 9, but due to the high rejection rate, the market will be extended,” he said.

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