The opening of the 2015 tobacco marketing season in the Northern Region suffered an early setback yesterday when farmers disrupted sales, demanding fair prices.
The growers momentarily stopped sales around 9am, almost an hour before Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Allan Chiyembekeza officially opened the Mzuzu Auction Floors at Luwinga with a call for fair prices and just rewards for their toil.
The turbulence began as farmers protested low prices ranging between $1.10 (K495) and $2 (K900) a kilogramme (kg) in the auction section.
In contrast, the country’s major cash crop was fetching between $1.50 (K675) and $2.20 (K990) per kg on the contract farming section comprising bales derived from farm input loans and extensions offered by the buying firms, especially multinational companies.
Meckson Mzumara, speaking on behalf of the disgruntled growers, described the price tags as “flags of injustice” and “daylight robbery”.
He asked the buyers to retake the sales or close shop until they were ready to give farmers fair deals.
Said Mzumara: “It is a raw deal. Good tobacco is being rejected or selling for as low as $1.20 [per kg]. It appears the buyers have conspired to offer nothing more than the minimum prices set by government.”
Ironically, both the minister and Tobacco Association of Malawi (Tama) president Reuben Maigwa billed the leaf on offer as superior to that encountered at Limbe, Lilongwe and Chinkhoma auction floors.
Said Maigwa: “The tobacco is good and well packaged, but the prices are very disappointing. The farmers deserve better prices because farming is not easy and the inputs are exorbitant.”
Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) board chairperson Paramount Chief M’mbelwa V confirmed the prices were “not good at all”, but asked farmers to make full use of established structures.
Said Inkosi ya Makosi M’mbelwa V: “I appeal to farmers to remain calm throughout the season and desist from disrupting sales every time they encounter a problem. The industry has structures and systems, spearheaded by TCC, for resolving any disagreements and conflicts.”
The minister said government expects the buyers to pay “fair or better” prices for tobacco in Mzuzu as they have done at Kanengo in Lilongwe, Limbe and Chinkhoma in Kasungu.
Said Chiyembekeza: “At the opening of the tobacco selling season on April 8, the President [Peter Mutharika] reiterated what he told the buyers during a recent audience at the State House, that no buyer should offer less than the minimum price. It is unfortunate to take advantage of the directive to pay actual minimums.” n