Do you remember back in the days when tobacco farmers were the envy of the community? Even children knew when it was tobacco selling season. The communities suddenly lit up, business both in the cities and trading centres would pick up as demand for various goods, mostly radios and bicycles, soared.
I have fond memories of how some of our parents, staunch Christians who strongly believed that growing tobacco was a sin, were mocked for sending us to school while our peers worked in their family’s tobacco fields. It was a waste of time to them because tobacco gave them quick bucks unlike sending a child to school when you are not even sure whether they will be successful.
A tobacco farmer commanded respect and admiration no wonder back then even school children dreamt of becoming farmers.
I know of a man in my village, a tobacco farmer, who had nine wives. He was rich–all thanks to tobacco farming.
But that’s the old story of tobacco, but now that storyline has completely changed. Tobacco is no longer the golden leaf that used to bring in the much needed forex. The international anti-smoking lobby is even making it worse for our once treasured gold leaf.
And with such changing times, it would be expected that we, too, as a country, should have moved with time and looked for alternatives to tobacco.
I have in mind the tourism sector which is unarguably under-marketed but has the potential to turn things around for the country’s economy. I sometimes wonder if at all those working at the Department of Tourism even care or understand the potential the sector has.
I am quite aware of budget cuts to ministries, but guess what? An awful amount of money lost through Cashgate was siphoned in pretext of promoting Malawi’s tourism.
We have plenty of breathtaking sceneries, after all, there is more to Malawi than just Lake Malawi. Some neighbouring countries are doing well thanks to tourism. What is wrong with us?
Yes, we may not do away with tobacco right away, but let us do it gradually because time will come when it will no longer make business sense to taut tobacco as the gold leaf.
For instance, how many of us are aware that we are still in the tobacco selling season? There is no pomp because tobacco is fetching low prices so much so that the farmers have toiled for nothing. Consequently, this has affected our economy which relies heavily on agriculture and tobacco as the main cash crop.
It is time we looked for alternatives to tobacco or else our perennial economic woes will not go away.