The Malawi tobacco industry has traditionally used wood-based barns in the curing and storage of tobacco green leaf from the field, but with the high rate of deforestation, the system has proven to be unsustainable.
JTI Leaf Malawi Limited, one of the country’s tobacco buying companies, has led the way in phasing out the old system.
This week, the company launched a live barn programme at Ukwe in the capital, Lilongwe to address deforestation and conserve soil fertility in tobacco growing communities.
The live barn concept reduces the use of trees in the building of barns by a significant proportion.
Unlike in the case of conventional barns that annually use poles for its construction and maintenance, in live barns trees are planted right where the barn will stand. Once the trees are fully grown, a barn is erected.
According to the company’s officials, the live barn programme will initially involve 300 farmers who will grow 65 000 trees this year before being extended to others in 15 districts.
The live barn initiative is an extension of JTI’s forestation programme which the company developed in partnership with the Washington State University and Total Land Care (TLC), a sustainable livelihoods non-profit organisation.
JTI group senior vice-president for global leaf, Paul Neumann, said the live barn initiative represents the company’s bold step towards addressing forestation in Malawi.
“By acting rightly and responsibly in our operations, we believe that we are going to achieve sustainability of the country’s tobacco industry,” he said in a statement.
JTI Malawi managing director Neville Young said the initiative is one of the company’s contributions to the country’s new tobacco production and marketing system, the Integrated Production System (IPS), which became effective in May 2012.
Under IPS —an initiative in which tobacco buyers combine farming and marketing strategies by dealing directly with farmers in producing the leaf —80 percent of all tobacco grown by farmers is sold on contract to buyers while the remaining 20 percent under the auction system, but all through the auction floors.
“At JTI, we see IPS as the new future of tobacco, and indeed the Malawi economy. We believe that if IPS is well harnessed, it should become the tobacco industry’s contribution to the country’s recently adopted economic recovery plan,” he said.
Players in the tobacco industry this year expect Malawi to produce quality tobacco thanks to the IPS under which 80 percent of the crop was supported by buying companies through provision of fertiliser and other inputs.
The Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) chief executive officer Dr. Bruce Munthali and Tobacco Association of Malawi (Tama) chief executive officer Graham Kunimba told Business News recently that the industry also expects the output to be higher than that of last year which was less than 80 million kilogrammes, the worst in 18 years.
“Most of the crop this year has been supported by the banks and tobacco buying companies. The farmers have applied adequate amounts of fertiliser which will result in quality leaf,” said Munthali.
Kunimba, who represents the interests of over 300 000 tobacco growers in Malawi, said the crop in the field is healthy and projected output to surpass 140 million kilogrammes.
“We think we will have a good season and the prices are also expected to be better, looking at the quality of the crop,” he said.
Tobacco is Malawi’s main export crop and wires in more than half of the country’s export revenue, contributes 13 percent to the national economy and supports millions of Malawians directly and indirectly.