Minister of Agriculture Sam Kawale says the Tobacco Commission (TC) has licensed farmers to grow about 239 million kilogrammes (kg) of tobacco, a 60 million kg jump on the 2022/23 buyers’ demand.
Briefing the media in Lilongwe on Monday, he said, so far, 49 070 licences have been issued to farmers who want to grow tobacco this season, adding that TC has extended the tobacco registration and licensing period for the 2023/24 growing season to November 17 2023.
“Last year, President Lazarus Chakwera challenged us to be growing a minimum of 200 million kilogrammes every year for the next five years and in the first year, we have already surpassed the target,” he said.
Among others, Kawale explained that the amended Tobacco Bill, which is expected to protect growers, buyers and other tobacco stakeholders, is ready for tabling in Parliament.
He also expressed optimism that the demand for tobacco on the international market will continue to grow and that government will continue looking for new markets, including in China.
“Last year, we had three new companies and the demand for the crop continues to grow and, as government, we are encouraging more farmers to grow the crop and be assured to get good prices,” said Kawale.
He also said to help farmers register without hurdles, the ministry has put a waiver for the growers not to pay licensing fee upfront, but have it deducted after selling their crop instead.
TC chief executive officer Joseph Chidanti-Malunga said the extension of the registration period will enable more farmers to grow tobacco this season.
“I was in Kasungu recently and it was clear that more farmers still want to register and the extension will mean more tobacco will be grown this season,” he said.
But Tama Farmers Trust president Abiel Kalima Banda in an interview said the registration exercise has cost farmers money for travel and discouraged others from tobacco farming.
Malawi has in recent years been expected to supply up to 170 million kg of tobacco to the international market, but output has been falling short for the past three seasons.
In 2020 and 2021, the country produced 114 million kg and 123 million kg of tobacco, respectively while in the 2022 season, the country produced 86 million kg, one of the lowest in recent years.
Last year, Malawi realised roughly $180 (about K184.3 billion) from 89 million kg of tobacco.
In the 2021 marketing season, cumulatively the country earned $197.1 million (about K204.1 billion) from 123.7 million kg of tobacco with the seasonal average price of all tobacco types at $1.59 (about K1 647.24) per kg compared to $1.53 (about K1 585.08) per kg recorded during the same period in 2020.
Tobacco roughly contributes about 60 percent to the country’s foreign exchange earnings and 13 percent to the gross domestic product.