Irate tobacco growers yesterday halted sales of the leaf at the Limbe Auction Floors in protest over low prices buyers offered barely 30 minutes after Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Bintony Kutsaila officially opened the market.
Two growers from Zomba, Feston Paudala and Esther Dauda, summed up the mood of their colleagues in an interview, saying the prices that ranged from 85 cents (K339) per kilogramme (kg) to $1.40 (K558) per kg, at an exchange rate of about K399 to a dollar, were below last year’s starting price of $1.05 (K418) per kg, of the same grade.
Said Paudala: “The prices the buyers are offering are not favourable and not in line with the cost of production. Fuel and transport costs have gone up. We can’t accept these prices because this is daylight robbery.”
Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) officials were seen making frantic efforts to cool down tempers of enraged growers for them to understand the situation. The officials thereafter convened a meeting with growers’ representatives to chart the way forward.
The mood at the Limbe floors is contrary to what obtained in Lilongwe and Chinkhoma in Kasungu on Monday and Tuesday, respectively, where sales proceeded smoothly for the past two days.
The government set minimum prices for both contract and auction tobacco are $1.76 (K702) per kg from last year’s $1.69 (K674) per kg for burley, $2.65 per (K1 057) kg from $2.63 9 (K1 049) per kg for flue cured and $2.10 (K837) per kg from $1.80 (K718) per kg for dark fired tobacco.
Kutsaila said the minimum prices for different types and grades are to ensure that the grower gets a fair reward for his/her labour.
“Each grade and type of tobacco has a minimum starting price and no buyer is allowed to buy any tobacco at below the minimum price,” he said, appealing to growers to remain calm throughout the season and desist from disrupting the sales every time they encounter a problem or are dissatisfied with the prices.
In his speech, TCC board chairperson crown prince Mkhosi Jere, who is yet to be inaugurated as Inkosi ya Makosi (Paramount Chief) M’mbelwa V, said since the sales season opened on Monday, they have noted some emerging challenges relating to classification, ‘no-sale’ bales for the auction tobacco, nesting, non-tobacco-related materials, misallocation of contract and auction tobacco, and limited participation by some tobacco buying companies.
The tobacco industry employs 12 percent of the country’s population, contributes 15 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP) and brings in over 60 percent of foreign exchange earnings.