Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) says it plans to send a team of assesors to take stock of the impact of the dry spell on tobacco.
This year, due to the El Nino phenomenon, most parts of the country have received erratic rains leading to several crops, including tobacco, wilting in the field save for districts such as Nkhotakota, Dedza and Ntchisi in the Central Region which are experiencing above normal rainfall and have had crops washed away due to flooding.
Ongoing El Nino effect is expected to continue through early 2016. Countries across the sub-Saharan region will experience erratic rainfall and dry spell, according to Famine Early Warning System Network (FewsNet).
Malawi, being an agro-based economy, will face more challenges if tobacco fails in the field as there will not only be food shortages, but also low forex since tobacco is the major forex earner.
Tobacco is Malawi’s main cash crop and accounts for 60 percent of foreign earnings. The crop also provides employment to more than two million people across the value chain.
Last year 193 million kilogrammes (kg) of tobacco, sold on the auction system, raked in $337.4 million, while 192 million kg produced in 2014 realised $361.6 million for the country.
In an interview on Thursday, FUM president Alfred Kapichira-Banda, who is also a prominent tobacco farmer in Dowa, described the tobacco situation as catastrophic due to the prolonged dry spell in his area.
He said crops planted in sandy soils have started drying up, adding that the situation is the same in most districts in the region.
“The situation looks scary. If it does not rain in the next two weeks we are in for disaster.
“The most scaring thing is that it is not only tobacco which will not do well if the rains are erratic, but almost all the crops. Our economy will bleed heavily because it is agro-based,” said Kapichira-Banda.
In a separate interview on Thursday, TCC chief executive officer Albert Changaya said the tobacco regulator will dispatch a team to assess the impact of the prolonged dry spell on tobacco nationwide.
He said the assessors will be sent this week to appreciate the situation on the ground.
“I have been moving around quite a lot and the situation is not good. The biggest problem is that the dry spell has not only hit tobacco, but all the crops.” he said.
Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Allan Chiyembekeza said government is putting in place contingency measures, and will announce them at an appropriate time.
“As a government, we are seriously monitoring the situation on the ground and we are consulting widely to see what we can do.
“However, I must hasten to say that we should not be sending alarms to farmers because we hope rains will still come even when there is El Nino,” he said.
On Saturday, Malawi held inter-denominational prayers for rains as El Nino effects continue to dog the growing season.
This year, the number of tobacco growers has also gone down from 39 800 registered last season to 26 000.