Covid-19 fears grips tobacco industry

Uncertainty surrounds this year’s tobacco market opening following Friday’s ban on public gatherings of up to 100 people as a precautionary measure against the spread of coronavirus.

Traditionally, the tobacco market opens in April every year.

With the selling floors usually crowded, the tobacco industry regulator, Tobacco Commission (TC) as well as the country’s oldest tobacco grower association, Tama Farmers Trust, fear that the directive will affect the industry’s usual business.

Tobacco marketing season may be delayed

TC chief executive officer Kayisi Sadala said yesterday: “The directive will surely affect the way we do business as you know the selling floors are always crowded.

“With the directive, the meeting will explore how the markets can operate while ensuring that we fully adhere to the preventive directives. As at now, I don’t want to preempt the meeting details,” he added.

However, Sadala explained that the tobacco industry gurus will be meeting tomorrow to strategise and agree on  logistical measures to be implemented to control the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed nearly 13 000 people around the world, with more than 304 500 people diagnosed with the infection, while nearly 92 000 have recovered, according to data collected by the Johns Hopkins University in the US.

In a separate interview, Tama Farmers Trust chief executive officer Felix Thole warned that the event that the 2020 marketing season is rescheduled, the situation would be disastrous to the domestic economy.

He said: “People out there are looking forward to the opening of the season. We are talking of growers who want to sell the leaf and earn an income for their livelihood.

“So, rescheduling will be disastrous.”

Thole said apart from Tuesday’s meeting on coronavirus, on March 25, 2020, the industry gurus are also scheduled to meet and discuss the delivery of tobacco for the 2020 marketing season while on March 27 2020, players are set to meet on the general 2020 market plan.

In a statement on Friday, President Peter Mutharika declared Malawi a State of Disaster and made a number of orders, including the ban on gatherings.

While Malawi is yet to officially report a case of coronavirus, its neighbours such as Tanzania and Zambia, have reported coronavirus cases.

Tobacco is touted as the country’s main export crop.

In recent years, the country’s tobacco industry has faced numerous challenges, including fluctuating prices offered to growers, hostile weather conditions, oversupply on the market, increased cases of non-tobacco related material nesting and unfavourable regulatory environment.

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