Tobacco growers on Monday expressed disappointment at Malawiâ€™s President Bingu wa Mutharikaâ€™s failure to announce minimum prices for this yearâ€™s tobacco marketing season which he opened at the Lilongwe Auction Floors.
Mutharika softened his stance on tobacco buyers, appealing to them to offer better prices to farmers this year. He said last yearâ€™s tobacco marketing season was the worst due to sustained poor prices for the leaf, the countryâ€™s major foreign exchange earner.
While Mutharika made his address at the function, several farmers were heard discussing whether the President would announce the minimum prices.
For the second year running, Mutharika has avoided announcing the minimum prices when opening the tobacco market.
â€œThe President has said nothing on the prices. We expected him to at least make an official announcement of the minimum prices which should act as benchmarks when selling our tobacco.
â€œThis means buyers will exploit us further this year as they have already started buying most of the leaf at less than $1 [less than K167 at the official rate] per kilogramme,â€ said Abraham Sandifolo from Lilongwe who has nine bales to sell at the auction floors.
Four other tobacco growers also said they were disappointed that Mutharika did not announce minimum prices for the leaf.
The maximum and minimum prices offered for the leaf per kilogramme by the time the President visited the auction floors were $1.95 (about K326) and $0.85 (about K142), respectively, according to Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) public relations officer Juliana Chidumu.
At the function, Mutharika, who cautioned the farmers against adding non-tobacco related materials such as stones in their tobacco bales to increase the weight, said he delayed to arrive at the auction floors because of disagreements which ensued at the market between buyers and leaf growers in the morning.
â€œToday, I didnâ€™t come to fight with tobacco buyers and growers. I just want to explain that the tobacco market is like any other market. It involves bargaining and should not be a battle field where people should shoot each other down,â€ he said.
The President appealed for patience among tobacco growers on the prices and also cautioned them against using child labour to produce the leaf.
The Presidentâ€™s reconciliatory approach to tobacco pricing is a departure from the confrontational approach in his first term of office during which he threatened buyers with deportation if they did not offer farmers above the minimum set-prices.
Tobacco is a strategic crop to Malawi. It wires in around 60 percent of the countryâ€™s foreign currency, contributes 13 percent to gross domestic product and employs at least two million Malawians directly and indirectly.