Malawi has vowed to never stop growing tobacco, the economy’s main foreign exchange earner, despite growing campaigns against the crop from anti-smoking lobbyists who want to see a total ban of the crop in the world.
Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda, speaking on the sidelines of the World Tobacco Growers Day in Lilongwe yesterday, said Malawi is not ready to stop growing the golden leaf as it has no substitute crop.
The minister said: “We are not and we will not stop growing the crop anytime soon. This crop is the backbone of the economy of the country and many other countries which grow tobacco.
“Since we [Malawi] do not have a substitute crop, we cannot envisage a Malawi without tobacco. We have done research as government, but as at now, there is no crop which can take over from tobacco in as a far as forex generation is concerned.”
On the other hand, the minister asked the farmers to adhere to quotas which buyers are looking for if their leaf is to fetch better prices at the markets.
Said Chaponda: “With the coming in of IPS [Integrated Production System] I am sure we can control how the crop can be grown next year.”
Through the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a binding treaty negotiated by the World Health Organisation and 192 member States, tobacco advertising and smoking in public is discouraged. Some countries in Europe have already imposed plain packages for cigarettes to make them less attractive to consumers.
The move has sent shockwaves to Malawian growers who fear that days of growing the crop are diminishing by each passing year.
During the commemoration yesterday, Leston Chidandale, a farmer who testified how his life has changed because of tobacco, asked government not to reduce the number of growers from 350 000 to 90 000, saying doing that will mean more problems for the other farmers.
He said: “We are ready to listen to the buyers, but to reduce the numbers wholesale will mean more trouble for tobacco farmers.”
Tobacco Association of Malawi (Tama) president Reuben Maigwa said most farmers have suffered greatly this year as their crop was bought at give away prices due to overproduction.
This year’s tobacco selling season has faced many challenges with rejection rates reaching as high as 95 percent in some markets.