Tobacco growers has faulted strict regulatory measures and tax increases on the leaf and its products, saying they are affecting demand for the crop.
Tobacco Association of Malawi (Tama) president Abiel Banda said in a statement on Tuesday that strict regulatory measures create strong incentives for illegal tobacco marketing which undermines the initial scope of tobacco control.
The statement was released at a meeting in Mangochi aimed to discuss the status of tobacco production in the country in relation to global developments.
Banda said growers accept the need to regulate the consumption of tobacco products, but insist that regulatory measures should be balanced and based on scientific research to prevent devastating impact on the livelihoods of millions of tobacco growers.
He said this should be aimed at achieving desired aims of tobacco control.
Said Banda: “Tama calls for coordination with key players as challenges in the tobacco sector are increasing and growers need guidance to look into the future in a sustainable way, promoting good practices in agriculture, compliant with social and environmental requirements attached to tobacco and other agricultural crops.
“Only a holistic plan developed by all key players can avoid the catastrophic consequences of substantial decrease in production. The Government of Malawi, United Nations agencies, tobacco companies and growers and their associations should be responsible and coordinate an immediate plan.”
In recent years, the International Tobacco Growers Association has tightened regulatory measures that, among others, encourage non-combustible cigarettes, a development which is affecting the uptake of combustible cigarettes worldwide.
The decline in demand according to growers, is also compounded by the rapid emerging legal cannabis market whose prevalence is feared to exceed tobacco in the near future.
Tobacco Commission corporate planning and development manager Hellings Nasoni on Tuesday acknowledged that the country introduced strict measures guided by the Tobacco Industry Act.
He said: “The industry has new rules that have strengthened our regulatory framework mainly with the focus on protecting the grower.
“You are aware that previously, there were incidences where somebody would just wake up and start charging something over and above the statutory levies the government has already put in place. So, these strong regulations are to ensure that unsanctioned levies are removed and remain with government recommended ones”.
Nasoni said the decline in tobacco demand is in line with international regulations that have affected global demand for the leaf; hence, trickling down to the local industry.
He said it was wrong to relate the international regulations to those implemented in the country, stressing that the international regulations are universal while the local regulations aim at protecting the farmer.
Tobacco remains the country’s main foreign exchange earner bringing about 60 percent of foreign currency to the economy.
The local market has in recent years been characterised by vendors who buy tobacco from growers as some of them avoid formal markets fearing regulations and taxes.
Tama has of late lamented that some growers tend to sell to vendors because they need quick cash while others fear that formal auction markets have stiff regulations and more levies that reduce their earnings.
Tobacco demand has continued to decline in recent years owing to World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which bring in strict tobacco production and marketing regulations.