Tobacco sales officially opened at Limbe Floors on Monday in Blantyre characterised by a rejection rate of 52 percent and poor quality leaf.
Growers claimed the high rejection rate was a deliberate ploy by buyers to buy the leaf at a lower price.
Yesterday, prices ranged between 80 cents (K553) per kilogramme (kg) and $1.40 (K968) per kg. Last year, on the same day, the opening price was $1.26 (K871) per kg.
Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda, who officially opened the sales, could not hide his disappointment, saying the start was not impressive as compared to the first day of sales at Lilongwe Auction Floors last Wednesday.
The minister, however, noted that some farmers did not follow proper procedures in handling their leaf, advising them to improve if they are to attain better returns.
Said Chaponda: “I have been looking at the tobacco in the bales and saw that the farmers mixed the leaf, which is not appropriate. I appeal to farmers to revisit their handling of the crop, but also to be patient as we create room for dialogue with our buyers on how to go about the situation.”
But a tobacco grower from Machinga, Austin Bello, in an interview, said the sales have started on a bad note.
“We could have had a better crop, but we were affected by a number of challenges, including late start of rains. I think the buyers are deliberately rejecting our crop to buy it at a cheaper price later,” he said.
Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) chief executive officer Albert Changaya downplayed the allegations, saying TCC has the situation under control.
“We have minimum prices that are set and buyers are mandated to abide by the prices. On top of that, we also deliberately introduced the kilogramme per kilometre type of charge [when transporting the leaf] aimed to encourage farmers not to mix their tobacco to ensure that they reap benefits from their sweat.
“We normally advise farmers to grade and present their tobacco properly but this has not been the case,” he said.
Commenting on the outlook of this year’s season, Changaya said at the onset of the sales, markets are dominated by intermediate buyers.
TCC figures show that the country has this year produced more than 200 million kilogrammes (kg) of tobacco against the international trade requirement of 158 million kg.
Last year, Malawi earned $337.4 million (K233 billion) from 193 million kg of tobacco sold at the country’s auction floors, a drop from the previous years’ $362 million (K250 billion) from 168 million kg of the leaf produced.