Tobacco farmers have asked government to put in place measures that will stop buyers from growing own leaf.
The growers said if tobacco companies continue to grow the crop, challenges that rocked the just-ended season such as low prices and high rejection rate of the leaf will not be sorted out.
Growers say current systems of auction and Integrated Production System (IPS) or contract farming, benefit tobacco buyers, but do not provide a level playing field for farmers.
Tobacco growers want government to abolish IPS which gives buyers a window of opportunity to grow the crop in partnership with selected farmers through provision of inputs to acquire the desired leaf quality.
In random interviews with Business Review, tobacco growers alleged that most of the tobacco- buying firms have been growing the leaf.
Said James Phiri, a farmer from Dowa on Monday: “If buyers have their own crop, how will they buy from us? That is why they have been rejecting our tobacco.”
But Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Allan Chiyembekeza has dismissed the allegations, saying there is no evidence that tobacco buyers “are double dealing”.
“If some buyers are doubling as growers, the laws of the land do not allow that,” he said.
However, a Kasungu-based farmer, Christina Kusakala, who has been growing tobacco for the past eight years, said government knows that buyers have farms where the crop is produced.
“If buyers continue growing tobacco then the small farmer has no chance of selling his crop at a better price,” she said.
Alliance One senior leaf buyer Peter Banda said in an interview on Tuesday that tobacco companies do not grow the crop on their own, but contract farmers to grow the crop on their behalf.
“I am not sure if there are companies that are growing tobacco on their own apart from those who contract farmers to grow tobacco on contract basis,” he said.
Limbe Leaf Tobacco Company managing director Rodney Hagger declined to comment on Tuesday.
But Chiyembekeza has assured growers that government will conduct investigations to ascertain if indeed buyers are growing own crop.
“If we conduct [investigations] and find out that this is happening then we will act. The laws of our land do not allow buyers to grow and I know these speculations are rising because the marketing season was tough for farmers and there was confusion on auction and contract market,” he said.
Tobacco is Malawi’s major foreign exchange earner which contributes about 60 percent to forex earnings, 13 percent to the national economy and 25 percent to the tax revenue. n