Growers of flue-cured tobacco are regretting a “wasted year” following buyers’ decision not to purchase the one-time high-earning leaf from farmers who are not on contract farming or integrated production system (IPS).
Sales have entered week 12 at Mzuzu Auction Floors and no single bale of flue-cured tobacco has been bought on the free-for-all side where unattached farmers auction their leaf.
By contrast, the sales were live on the other
side where farmers sell their leaf through IPS.
In an interview, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Allan Chiyembekeza, who visited the tobacco market yesterday, confirmed this was a nationwide scenario, saying the growers were actually forewarned against growing flue-cured tobacco due to dipping demand overseas.
“As a ministry, we knew at the start of the growing season that flue-cured tobacco was not on demand this year and we took steps to warn the farmers against it. However, it appears some of them took the gamble and went against the warning hoping the buying companies would change their stance, but they have not,” he said.
Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) chief executive officer Bruce Munthali said government will ensure that no tobacco remains in growers’ hands by the end of the marketing season.
“It is sad the farmers did not heed the early warnings, but we hope the companies will buy the flue-cured tobacco as the sales continue,” he said.
The stand-off comes amid low buying prices and high rejection rates of burley tobacco on the auction side.
Yesterday, the prices were hovering between 80 cents (K360) per kilogramme (kg) and $2.20 (K990) per kg for burley, a trend the officials described as neck-to-neck with offers for the same time last year.
Thus far, tobacco has raked in $204 million (K92 billion) having sold nearly 116 million kg, compared to the same period last year when nearly $183 million (K82 billion) was earned from 105 million kg of the leaf sold.
One of the farmers, Harry Mkandawire, who is also member of Parliament (MP) for Mzimba West said Malawians would benefit more from the strategic crop by improving prices and lessening no-sale tobacco on the auction floors.
Nearly 37 percent of the bales were rejected on the auction section yesterday, a rate Mkandawire and Chiyembekeza described as too high.