Tobacco growers and other concerned Malawians have urged government and regional trade blocs to remove trade restrictions to ensure that growers sell their leaf in regional markets.
While sympathising with the local tobacco growers, African Institute of Corporate Citizenship (Aicc) chief executive officer Felix Lombe said in Lilongwe on Friday giving growers freedom to sell their tobacco beyond the borders will result in Malawi losing the much-needed foreign exchange to neighbouring countries.
He said while there are many challenges in the tobacco sector, integrated production system (IPS) or contract selling of tobacco, has brought misery on growers as it leaves them poorer.
But Citizens’ Initiative (CI) official Dawn Nyasulu said growers will continue to poss losses unless Malawi and other Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) member-States remove trade barriers and restrictions on tobacco.
The two were speaking during a public debate organised by National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust to disseminate information on Sadc regional trade and economic integration.
Nyasulu wondered why government is not taking advantage of a number of trade protocols, agreements and instruments Malawi has signed and ratified to expand its tobacco market.
He said: “It is strange that only tobacco farmers are not allowed to choose where to sell their crop. If this continues, growers will weep increasingly as prices buyers offer for the leaf continue to fall each [marketing] season.
“It is high time tobacco farmers were let free to sell their produce at a market of their choice, including beyond the borders. We need to take advantage of our membership with Sadc to free the farmers from perennial weeping and poverty.”
Charles Batisoni, a member of Malanda Farmers’ Club in Traditional Authority Chakhaza in Dowa, supported the call, saying the prevailing trends on the local [tobacco] market is depriving the local farmer of the right to economic development.
He said it is strange that Malawian tobacco growers continue to wallow in abject poverty while their counterparts in Zambia, Zimbabwe and other countries are enjoying the fruits of their sweat.
While prices of the leaf in Malawi are low and take-home earnings for growers are meagre, in neighbouring countries, farmers have been smiling all the way to the bank.
Nice Trust regional integration desk officer Stella Kalengamaliro could not comment on the matter, saying they only provided a platform where people, including tobacco farmers could voice out their concerns on issues affecting them.
Tobacco farmers have this year suffered one of the worst marketing seasons as buyers kept offering low prices apart from rejecting most of the leaf offered at the auction.