Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) has engaged a consultant to capture data of all tobacco fields using global positioning system (GPS) to corner illegal tobacco growers.
GPS is a network of orbiting satellites that send precise details of their position in space back to earth and the project, to cost K4 million, will be piloted in Ntchisi, Lilongwe and Mchinji districts.
In an interview in Lilongwe on Friday, TCC acting chief executive officer David Luka said by using GPS, they will be getting coordinates of all tobacco gardens and feed them into their system for proper registration of growers.
He said once this is done, any grower whether producing tobacco as an individual or belonging to a club, will be easily identified when they come for registration.
Said Luka: “Tobacco has a future unless we stick to and practise what the buyers want. As a regulator, we have embarked on several reforms
and one of them is to capture all the tobacco gardens to be in our system.
“Within 10 minutes, we will know all the details of any farmer who will come for registration. At the end of the day, only those who have licences to grow tobacco will be those with gardens which means that intermediaries will not get our licence and will be flushed out.”
He said thus far, about 22 000 farmers have registered to grow tobacco, but TCC expects more farmers this year because of poor prices in legumes such as groundnuts, soya, pigeon peas and beans.
But Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) president Alfred Kapichira-Banda differed with Luka, saying it will not be easy to corner intermediaries because technology is sometimes let down by human beings.
He said TCC needs to intensify physical inspections in the villages to check on the activities of intermediaries and not only depending on GPS.
“As FUM, we always wonder why TCC is failing to regulate the sector when before, TCC could manage quotas with ease. What is it that their friends were doing and they are not?
“I believe even if they embark on this GPS project, intermediaries will always be there,” said Kapichira- Banda, who is also a longtime tobacco grower based in Madisi, Dowa.
TCC planning and research manager Hellings Nasoni said international trade requirements for this season are at 171 million kilogrammes (kg) of all types of tobacco, up from last season’s 152 million kg.
“This year, farmers will have ample time to prepare their gardens and we will ensure that they engage in best practices so that there is less rejection rate,” he said.
Nasoni said TCC has this year improved the speed of registering farmers as it is being done within five minutes.
Tobacco is Malawi’s main foreign exchange earner contributing more than half of the earnings and about 15 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP). n