Angry farmers yesterday forced the suspension of Lilongwe Auction Floors in protest against high rejection rate and delays by some tobacco buyers to enter the market.
Since President Lazarus Chakwera opened the tobacco market on April 20 this year, there has been a high rejection rate up to 95 percent.
In an interview, AHL Group public relations manager Teresa Ndanga confirmed the development, saying angry farmers stormed the Lilongwe Floors and stopped the selling of the leaf due to high rejection rate, among other challenges.
She said: “I can confirm that the Lilongwe market has been suspended following farmer grievances against buyers’ high rejection rate. Since they have written the Tobacco Commission as a regulator of the industry, the market will remain suspended until we receive a directive on the way forward.”
Tama Farmers Trust chief executive officer Nixon Lita in a separate interview said he heard about developments at Lilongwe market but had no details because he was preoccupied with the opening of the Mzuzu tobacco market yesterday.
National Association of Smallholder Farmers in Malawi chief executive officer Betty Chinyamunyamu said the high rejection rate will lead to serious losses on the part of growers and eventually affect their investment for next season.
She said last year the rejection rate contributed to the 75 percent reduction of auction production in the Southern Region where majority of growers prefer auction than contract farming.
Meanwhile, Minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe has warned tobacco buying companies against failure to stick to government set minimum prices.
Speaking when he opened the Mzuzu Floors, the minister said government is monitoring tobacco prices and not impressed with the current situation as some companies are sticking to minimum prices regardless of the quality of the leaf.
“I have observed that the buyers are buying high quality leaf at a minimum price, which is not fair to the farmer,” said Lowe.
Currently, the market has nine buyers including four traditional ones