Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) has expressed concern over Malawiâ€™s slow progress in diversifying away from tobacco, saying there is little action on the ground in search of an alternative.
The union has since said no crop can single-handedly substitute tobacco as Malawiâ€™s major export commodity, but a combination of crops could help dislodge the green gold.
FUM president Felix Jumbe said this in an interview with Business News last week in the wake of continued international pressure on tobacco being championed by the World Health Organisationâ€™s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC).
“We have noted that there has been a lot of talk on the need to diversify away from tobacco, but less action on the ground. We need to seriously reflect on this,” said Jumbe, who is also vice-president for Pan-African Farmers Organisation (Pafo).
Jumbe gave a practical example of Georgia and Brazil which, he said, intensified the production of peanuts and Soya beans, respectively, which emerged major export crops for the two countries.
He argued that, at the moment, the challenge for Malawi is to find an optimal combination of commodities to be grown on a large scale and substitute tobacco as a major export commodity.
Jumbe also asked for a change of mindset by many Malawians on the government-run subsidy programme which, he said, is just a relief programme and has not helped in diversifying the structure of the economy.
He also reasoned that recent tobacco revenue statistics have proved beyond doubt that the crop is under severe pressure as total continues income from the green gold continues to plunge each year.
This year, tobacco revenue is estimated at $177 million (about K53 billion), which is down 40 percent from last yearâ€™s $292 million (about K88 billion) worth of revenue.
In 2010, total proceeds from tobacco at auction floors level was estimated at around $410 million Malawi (about K125 billion).
“This country has a very big potential to transform if we could embark on commercial or large-scale farming for these other crops which is lacking at the moment. We need to open up because no single crop can replace tobacco,” added Jumbe.
Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Proffessor Peter Mwanza admitted when he recently graced the 2012 tobacco technologies symposium for the Agriculture Research and Extension Trust (Aret) that the tobacco industry is facing many challenges both internationally and locally.
The minister, however, said government has already intensified the search for an alternative to tobacco and cited recent huge investments into strategic sectors such as cotton.