This year’s tobacco selling season starts in Lilongwe today and there might be no traditional pomp and fanfare due to the threat of coronavirus, authorities have confirmed.
Traditionally, the start of tobacco selling season which signifies the start of the flow of tobacco dollars, is a huge event on the country’s calendar of activities and is opened by the Head of State.
But State House Press Secretary, Mgeme Kalilani, and Tobacco Commission (TC) Chief Executive Officer, Kaisi Sadala, confirmed in separate interviews yesterday that this year’s opening will be a bit subdued due to the threat of the virus, adding that President Peter Mutharika will not be in attendance.
“The reason is to reduce the number of people at the event in view of the coronavirus threat. As you are aware, whenever the President attends a function hundreds of people are present.
“This scenario is not recommended at present otherwise we risk providing a fertile ground for coronavirus spreading,” Kalilani said.
On his part, Sadala said there will not be a formal or official opening function in compliance with the restrictions imposed on public gatherings.
“All is set for this year’s commencement of tobacco sales at Kanengo Selling Floors in Lilongwe. In view of the restriction on public gatherings in view of the coronavirus, there will be no official opening function as has been the case in the past.
“In terms of volumes, as at close of business last Friday, we had stocks amounting 17,036 bales in stock. According, to our sales plan, on Monday we will trade 3,242 bales of burley and out this figure, 608 bales will be on auction while the rest is on contract,” Sadala said.
Every year, government sets minimum prices for buying various grades of tobacco to act as guides to buyers.
Sadala said the minimum prices have been released but that it is impossible for one to quote a particular price because unlike other crops, minimum prices for tobacco relate to a particular grade and in totality we are talking nearly 300 minimum prices.
“It becomes easier to talk of average prices once trading has started. However, in line with the new Tobacco Act, we will be required to publish the ruling minimum prices in due course,” Sadala said.
This year, the tobacco industry will have a new buyer namely Voedsel Tobacco Company, from Zimbabwe.
The company will participate in buying burley and flue cured tobaccos on auction market in the first year but expand to contract marketing in second year.
The consolidated trade requirement for the 2020 tobacco marketing season stands at 161.4 million kilogrammes against licensed volume of 173.4 million kilogrammes.