Major players in Malawiâ€™s tobacco industry have described the newly approved Integrated Tobacco Production Systems (IPS) as a possible solution to the challenges that the leaf is facing both locally and internationally.
Locally, tobacco has been facing numerous challenges in recent years such as increased cases of non-tobacco related materials (NTRM), depressed prices, low competition among tobacco merchants, over-production and the use of uncertified tobacco seed by growers.
Internationally, tobacco industry continues to face mounting pressure from the anti-smoking lobbyists and the World Health Organisationâ€™s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) guidelines and measures which seek to abolish tobacco farming by 2025.
Among others, IPS entails the production of high quality food and other products by using natural resources and regulating mechanisms to replace polluting inputs and to secure sustainable farming.
The Tobacco Association of Malawi (Tama), largest tobacco growers body in Malawi, has argued that the new system is poised to provide tobacco growers an opportunity be linked to the financial system.
â€œUnder this system, farmers will be enabled access to bank loans through the sponsored crops which in a way integrates the farmers to the trade requirements,â€ said Tama president Reuben Maigwa in an interview last week.
Maigwa said such a system will eliminate speculative tobacco production which, he said, has often resulted into uncontrolled crop size.
He also banked hopes that the new system will help Malawi diversify alongside tobacco, â€˜not away from tobacco,â€™ and help grow the countryâ€™s export base in the process.
The Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) chief executive officer Dr. Bruce Munthali said in an interview on Monday that IPS will enforce issues of compliance by growers apart from regulating production of the leaf.
â€œSuch enforcement issues of compliance include good environmental practices, good agricultural husbandry practices as well as good labour practices,â€ said Munthali.
He also said the new production system will help offer tobacco growers pre-determined prices, saying farmers will be in a position to know the prices of their leaf in advance.
Munthali also said the system will help integrate tobacco buyers into the delivery of tobacco to the auction system which, in turn, will help eliminate increased cases of theft of tobacco bales when transported to the market.
Speaking in a televised interview on the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) on Sunday, the Agriculture Research and Extension Trust (Aret) executive director Dr. Ibrahim Phiri, whose institution is also a key player in Malawiâ€™s tobacco industry, argued that IPS will help propel the use and adoption of new tobacco technology among tobacco growers.
â€œIt will also provide an opportunity to growers to have access to farm inputs such as quality seed as they will be getting direct support from the banks,â€ said Phiri.
When she opened the 24th annual congress by Tama last week, President Joyce Banda said that her administration has approved the new tobacco production system in order to fight against external shocks affecting the tobacco industry.
â€œI have approved the introduction of the integrated production system as a response to some of the negative effects of FCTC,â€ she said.
Tobacco is Malawiâ€™s lifeline which wire in about 60 percent of the countryâ€™s foreign exchange earnings and 13 percent to the national economy and employs millions of Malawians directly and indirectly.