Inkosi Mpherembe of Mzimba and some tobacco growers in the district have asked government to review Integrated Production System (IPS) or contract system of selling tobacco to protect growers from exploitation.
The chief, who is also board chairperson of Kabwafu Tobacco Scheme in the district said this in an interview last week .
He said IPS has created more problems at the scheme which used to thrive when growers were selling tobacco under the traditional auction system.
“Between 2000 and 2005 when growers were getting loans from [commercial] banks, most growers were able to pay back the loans and make profits,” said Mpherembe, who blamed both growers and tobacco buying companies for the situation.
“Contract growing is not bad, but it needs to be improved through regulation that gives more protection to the growers,” said Mpherembe.
He said growers also need to be disciplined by fulfilling their contractual obligations, adding that some of them sell their leaf to vendors while others produce beyond their agreed quotas.
In an interview, one of the growers, Feston Billiat, said he was given inputs on loan amounting to K1.6 million and sold 29 bales of tobacco, realising K2 million, leaving him with K400 000.
He said after paying tenants, he remained with K180 000 as his net profit for the year.
“I have used all that money for my home needs although I still owe one more labourer K50 000,” he said.
Another grower, Ephraim Kapakasa, said he was given a loan on inputs valued at K7.5 million and produced 150 bales.
The firm that contracted him, Limbe Leaf Tobacco Company, has only bought 120 bales, leaving him with 30 unsold bales.
“I have fully repaid the loan and was left with K800 000 which I have used to pay workers and ground rent here at the scheme,” he said.
In an interview on Tuesday, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Joseph Mwanamvekha said they will take up the growers’ concerns with Tobacco Control Commission (TCC).
TCC chief executive officer Kayisi Sadala in an interview said as a regulator, they noted that some companies were not making full disclosures in their contracts with growers, adding that in future they will ensure that growers are not being duped.
But Limbe Leaf Tobacco Company legal and corporate affairs director Febbie Chikungwa said the company always buys tobacco at or above government minimum pricing.
“As a company, providing inputs to growers puts our business at risk. To that end, we provide free agronomic services to ensure growers produce a compliant quality crop that is marketable.
“However, there is always a risk of side marketing or indeed bad weather in which case the company is unable to recover the cost of the input provided to the growers. Such scenarios put the company’s business at a serious risk,” she said.