Malawi’s tobacco selling season this year got off to a good start at the Auction Floors in Lilongwe, with farmers fetching reasonably high prices for their leaf—the country’s main foreign exchange earner.
Early sales at the floors saw top-quality tobacco fetching $210 per kilogramme while low-quality tobacco was going at $80 per kilogramme. The prices beat the minimum prices that were projected.
However, some farmers expected much higher prices on this first day of sales because this year’s production of all types of tobacco is 14 percent less than what was produced during the last season.
But even the sceptical farmers could not help being optimistic that as the season sales pick up, and more quality tobacco is packaged, this may turn out to be a year when they reap more.
Speaking when opening the tobacco marketing season, President Peter Mutharika stressed to buyers and other players in the tobacco sector to respect farmers who work hard to produce the leaf.
He lamented the fact that farmers are victims of many players who oftentimes impose charges on services without prior consultations with the farmers.
“Farmers are working hard and apply a lot of expensive inputs, but are not getting maximum prices from their tobacco. We need to give these people the respect they deserve because they are working for all of us.
“Even transporters need to be fair to our farmers because each one depends on the other. Transporters need the tobacco, while the farmers need the transporters to take their tobacco to the auctioning floors,” he stated.
Mutharika explained that although he is determined to diversify the economy, tobacco will remain a main commodity supporting the country’s economy.
He said: “If the tobacco sector grows, we all grow and we all win. But if the industry fails, we all lose. So, let us work together, and in good faith and in a fair manner.”
In an interview, Farmers’ Union of Malawi president Alfred Kapichila Banda agreed with Mutharika’s call for the nation to respect tobacco farmers.
But he said authorities promote this farmers’ disrespect by not involving them during strategic planning meetings on nurturing the crop and setting prices.
Said Kapichila Banda: “I don’t understand how officials decide the price of a commodity without involving the producer of the commodity. As tobacco farmers, we get surprised that even transport charges of our tobacco are just imposed on us.”
He bemoaned the presence of numerous levies he said choke the farmers’ income and yet the growers fetch less, in view of high inputs costs in the production of the leaf.
Kapichila Banda further lamented the tendency by contracting companies in the contract farming, where input loans are quoted in Malawi Kwacha, but when deductions are done, the farmers pay back in foreign currency.
Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) board chairperson Paramount Chief M’mbelwa V said the commission is doing all it can to protect the tobacco farmers from unscrupulous dealers.
On his part, Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) chief executive officer Kayisi Sadala confirmed that the marketing season has started on a good note.
He explained that although some farmers felt the market has been opened late, there was no point in opening the market earlier as the tobacco volumes produced were lower and would not satisfy the market.
The tobacco industry plays a major role in the Malawi economy.
Not only is it the main cash crop and foreign exchange earner accounting for more than half of the country’s export earnings, it also contributes roughly 13 percent to economic output.