Malawi is considering to ratify the World Health Organisation (WHO)-championed Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) for the country to better lobby against some measures in the convention championing worldwide anti-smoking.
FCTC is critical to tobacco-dependent economies such as Malawi’s as it is a modern day public health treaty negotiated under the auspices of WHO. It provides an international coordinated response to combating diseases that come about due to tobacco use and sets out specific steps for governments to follow.
Some of the measures provided in the FCTC include adoption of pricing and tax measures that reduce consumption of tobacco, banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and creating smoke-free work and public spaces as well as putting prominent health warnings on tobacco packages.
Speaking on Friday after monitoring sales at the Limbe Auction Floors and visiting Limbe Leaf Tobacco Company Limited’s Limbe Factory, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Allan Chiyembekeza admitted the growing anti-smoking lobby through FCTC is threatening the tobacco industry.
He said Malawi is seriously considering ratifying the convention to have a stronger voice.
Said Chiyembekeza: “Government is seriously considering ratifying the convention so that our voice as Malawi can be heard, especially considering that tobacco is a crop of strategic importance to our economy.”
During the minister’s visit of the auction floors, Tobacco Association of Malawi (Tama) president Reuben Maigwa decried low prices offered by buyers which, he said, were 20 percent lower than those of last year.
Maigwa also appealed to buyers to be honest, observing that buyers were offering better prices to farmers they sponsored under contract farming.
He also urged government to fight against FCTC which he described as cruel to countries such as Malawi which rely on tobacco for about 60 percent of its foreign exchange earnings.
In his response, the minister said he had taken note of the concerns but challenged farmers to ensure that they take only quality crop to the market.
He said buyers complained to him that some farmers attempt to beat the system by stuffing non tobacco related materials as well as mixing different grades of tobacco in one bale.
On his part, Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) chief executive officer Bruce Munthali said the tobacco marketing season was in its 16th week and had already sold 127 million kilogrammes (kg) valued at $227 million.
He said this represented a three percent decrease on earnings during the same period last year.
But Munthali attributed the drop to softening of tobacco prices globally as well as limited competition across all types of tobacco.
Tobacco contributes 60 percent of Malawi’s foreign exchange earnings and employs 12 percent of the country’s labour force. Besides, tobacco contributes 15 percent of Malawi’s gross domestic product (GDP).