Tobacco Commission (TC) has expressed fears that neighbouring countries could take up Malawi’s tobacco market share if international best growing practices are not adhered to.
The development comes at a time there is a withholding release order (WRO) imposed on Malawi by the United States Government over concerns on the use of child labour in the tobacco production value chain.
TC deputy chief executive officer Levi Pheleni said in an interview that countries such as Mozambique and Zambia, among others, are posing threats.
He said neighbouring countries are upping their tobacco production game by adhering to international standards; hence, posing a threat to Malawi’s markets.
Pheleni, however, remained confident that Malawi will sustain its markets, saying the new Tobacco Industry Act has given the regulator the power to deal with issues such as child labour and enforcement of strict adherence to best tobacco production practices.
He said TC is implementing the law to the letter, resulting in enhanced regulatory issues.
Said Pheleni: “There are a lot of audits that happen in the tobacco industry. These are done by the same buying companies that we supply to, and they certify. It is not like we operate in secret.
“They actually come to audit everything that happens in the tobacco production value chain.”
Pheleni said Malawi needs to produce its tobacco in line with stipulated conditions.
He said apart from strengthening best production practices, tobacco growers are already diversifying into other crops such as legumes.
Tobacco Association of Malawi (Tama) director of finance and administration Andrew Mfune agreed with Pheleni on the external risks, but said growers are being sensitised through meetings to the new law.
He said as threats continue cropping up on tobacco production and marketing, farmers are being encouraged to diversify to mitigate low incomes arising from tobacco, which is one of the country’s main foreign earners.
“We have organised our farmers under Tama into cooperatives where they produce legumes and aggregate them to sell in bulky to big companies. In such a way, the returns are rewarding than when they operate on individual basis.
“They are now seeing benefits from diversification other than over-relying on tobacco as one key cash crop,” said Pheleni.
In recent years, the country’s tobacco industry has faced numerous challenges, including fluctuating prices offered to growers, hostile weather conditions, oversupply on the market, increased cases of non-tobacco related materials (NTRMs), unfavourable regulatory environment and the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) guidelines.
But the recently introduced Tobacco Industry Act of 2019, enacted in February this year, offers hope to industry players who are optimistic that the law will protect the tobacco grower and bring sanity in the production and marketing of the crop, which contributes about 13 percent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).