Tobacco growers give lukewarm response

Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) has extended growers’ registrations for the 2017/18 growing season to meet the international trade requirements of 170 million kilogrammes (kg) following a lukewarm response from growers.

The exercise, which was expected to end in September, has been extended until when registered growers’ quotas meet the required demand.

Tobacco bales at auction floors

As of Tuesday, only 40 000 tobacco farmers had registered, with expected production output of 140 million kg, which is 30 million kg short of the 2018 tobacco demand.

Last year, buyers had demanded 158 million kg and 45 000 tobacco farmers were registered, but the growers ended up producing 126 million kg.

In an interview on Tuesday, TCC chief executive officer David Luka said the regulatory body has failed to close registration as earlier planned as it was banking on more growers to come for the registration to fill up the remaining volumes.

He said: “Some farmers have not been able to register yet because of poor planning while others are saying they were having financial difficulties to come for registration.

“The other issue is that some farmers had not yet completed contract arrangements with their buyers; hence, the delay,” he said.

“However, we are concerned more about meeting demand this season and we will close hopefully in the next three weeks. We hope to verify all the registered growers with the GPS [global positioning system] so that we avoid what happened the previous season when it turned out that some who had registered were in fact middlemen,” he said.

The development is coming at a time tobacco growers under Tobacco Association of Malawi (Tama) plan to diversify into other crops as a survival mechanism amid uncertainty on the crop’s future.

Tama chief executive officer Mathews Zulu said the diversification plan is in response to demands from their members to grow other crops on contract to survive the turbulent times facing tobacco.

“In this new strategy, we want to go towards contract marketing so that farmers should be producing for the market and not producing before they identify the market,” he said.

Last season, tobacco, brought in $212 million (K154 billion) in foreign exchange revenue from the previous year’s $276 million (K201.5 billion), according to TCC.

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