Senior Chief Mpherembe of Mzimba has commended AHL Group, formerly Auction Holdings Limited, for sustaining operations at Kabwafu Rural Tobacco Market in the district.
The chief said the market provides an opportunity for tobacco growers to have a say on tobacco prices.
Kabwafu Rural Market is operated by AHL Group exclusively for flue-cured tobacco farmers in the district on contract with Limbe Leaf Tobacco Company Limited.
Speaking to a group of journalists on Tuesday, Mpherembe said Kabwafu being a small and concentrated market gives room to growers to negotiate with buyers and other stakeholders on prices.
He said the closeness of the market also saves farmers from expenses on transport, food and accommodation as is the case at larger markets.
“The trading culture here is that whenever there are disputes [over quality and prices], growers are also involved in the negotiations and their views are often heard. This is not always the case at bigger floors such as Mzuzu,” said Mpherembe.
The chief asked buyers to improve the prices they offer to match those of last year.
“Most of the tobacco has already been sold, but it would be nice if the prices were improved for the remaining leaf because prices have been low compared to last year. The lower prices will make it difficult for growers to repay their loans,” said Mpherembe.
AHL Group assistant floors manager Anthony Mwafulirwa said the Kabwafu market has so far operated without disturbances because of the arbitration system which makes it easier to resolve disputes on time.
“Whenever there are differences on prices, all stakeholders, including the growers, quickly convene to discuss the issue and it does not take time to reach an agreement. The voice of the grower is highly respected here,” he said.
Mwafulirwa said 1.5 million kilogrammes (kg) have so far been sold out of 1.7 million kg.
The leaf is being sold at an average price of $2.61 (K1 913) per kg which is lower than the average price of $3.20 (K2 345) per kg for last year.
About 180 clubs comprising 1 800 growers sell their tobacco through Kabwafu Rural Market.
AHL Group operates another satellite market at Lufita in Chitipa in addition to floors at Luwinga in Mzuzu, Chinkhoma in Kasungu, Kanengo in Lilongwe and Limbe in Blantyre