Malawi tobacco is losing its identity due to growers’ continued use of recycled seeds, Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) deputy chief executive officer David Luka has said.
He said in an interview on Tuesday the tobacco regulatory body has been getting negative feedback from buyers; hence, the decision to embark on an awareness campaign to sensitise growers against using recycled seeds.
Said Luka: “We had a meeting where we agreed to launch a campaign against using recycled seeds. We are losing our identity because customers [buyers] are saying our tobacco does not taste good.”
Malawi’s burley tobacco is largely used to blend with other tobacco types from other countries to manufacture cigarettes which are sold on the international market.
Luka said buyers have put their foot down, stressing that this season is the last to buy recycled crop.
In February this year, TCC announced that buyers will not buy non-certified tobacco starting from next growing season, a development that displeased some growers who argued that the crop fetches higher price on the market.
During area meetings with Tobacco Association of Malawi (Tama), the largest tobacco growing association, farmers questioned the rationale behind buying the crop at a higher price if buyers have stopped demanding for it.
Meanwhile, according to this year’s market trend, non-certified tobacco continues to fetch better prices compared to certified leaf.
A visit to the Mzuzu Floors last Friday established that the leaf is fetching as high as $2.60 (about K1 800) per kilogramme (kg) for growers selling their leaf under contract or Integrated Production System (IPS) and $1.20 (about K850) per kg under the auction system.
Some buyers at the floors who did not want to be named said most of the leaf delivered is from the recycled seed.
In an interview, one of the growers from Engucwini in Mzimba, Maneno Gondwe ,said the buyers do not put much emphasis on the type of seed used, but the quality of the leaf produced.
However, Luka said buyers have their own reasons for purchasing the crop at higher prices while growers prefer it because it requires lesser inputs than the hybrid variety.
“We are going ahead with our plans because the more we have the recycled leaf on the market, the more we tarnish our image,” he said.
Tama president Reuben Maigwa has since asked growers to abide by the buyers’ demand not to grow uncertified seeds.
He said it does not matter whether the leaf is currently fetching better prices than the certified one.
“We cannot force the customers to continue buying the recycled crop when all they want is certified ones. We do not have any other option apart from abiding by their demands,” he said.
Tobacco is the country’s number one foreign exchange earner, contributing about 60 percent of foreign exchange earnings and 13 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP), the broadest measure of the economy’s performance.