Malawi President Joyce Banda last week issued a directive to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security to set standards as benchmarks for qualifying tobacco associations starting from the next growing season.
The President made the directive in Lilongwe when she opened the 24th annual congress of the Tobacco Association of Malawi (Tama) convened under the theme â€˜Integrated Tobacco Production Systems (IPS) for Profitability and Sustainabilityâ€™.
“All tobacco grower bodies should be screened against the set standards and any association that fails should not be allowed to participate in any activity along the tobacco value chain,” warned Banda.
The President said she was aware of the proliferation of “supposedly” tobacco grower body associations in the industry.
Banda said some of the associations are owned by businesspeople whose interests are not to assist the vulnerable tobacco farmers, but to rip them off.
She said some associations were born out of motivation to have a leeway to offloading quotas, but do not have a sustainable governance structures.
The directive was an apparent reaction to a complaint raised by Tama president Reuben Maigwa who said the mushrooming of the grower body associations is making genuine tobacco growers lose their hard-earned money.
He said the proliferation of the associations is a direct result of a protracted legal battle that Tama successfully fought in the High Court in 2009 by way of a judicial review. It was ruled that the offloading quota at the auction floor belongs to a tobacco grower association and not a transporter.
“With the passing of that landmark judgment, the tobacco industry has seen this proliferation of grower associations fronted by transporter businesspeople who want to secure an offloading quota at the auction floor and not necessarily with an interest to help the farmer,” said Maigwa.
On one hand, Banda said her government appreciates the strides that Tama has made in the recent years such as restructuring and repositioning itself in the wake of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC) and other challenges.