President Dr. Lazarus Chakwera says tobacco use around the world is declining sharply, and by all indicators, declining irreversibly, calling on the Ministry of Agriculture to begin consultations with all stakeholders and come up with the timeframe within which Malawi’s tobacco and a strategy for preparing farmers for a more prosperous future built on other commercial crops that are mere profitable and sustainable.
Dr. Chakwera said he is confident and hopeful that even such international tobacco merchants as Phillip Morris, British American Tobacco, Universal Leaf, Japanese Tobacco International, who have been great partners of Malawi tobacco industry have seen the writing on the wall saying he would like to be part of the transition.
He said the temptation for all Malawians is to resist change because many Malawians cannot imagine a Malawi that is prosperous without a tobacco industry, he sees a better future for Malawians, a future where farmers are richer from growing other crops like nuts, Jatropha, and industrial hemp.
Speaking when he officially opened the 2021 tobacco marketing season at the Auction Floors, Kanengo in Lilongwe, President Dr. Chakwera said although this year’s marketing season has slightly delayed, the quality is good, and farmers deserve credit for this, despite supply registered compared to demand.
Dr. Chakwera said there is gross imbalance in bargaining power between tobacco farmers and other industry players or farmers do not have enough of a say in what happens with their produce, what price it is sold at, and what market it is supplied to.
He said this is not the case for Malawi’s tobacco farmers, and it is injustice government has to correct, wanting the Ministry of Agriculture to bring industry players together and come up with a blueprint that will cure this imbalance and once for all.
The President said he wants a permanent solution to the malpractice by some stakeholders of charging farmers dubious levies that have not been approved by the Ministry of Agriculture, saying this must stop, any senseless levies imposed on farmers, increase the cost of production and decrease the farmer’s return.
…”I see a future in which our farmers can afford decent housing, piped water, and education for their children from growing more profitable crops, a future in which college graduates and urban elites envy the livelihoods of rural farmers because they can afford things that a mere job salary cannot…,’’ said President Dr.Chakwera.
He said when Malawians got this future, the gains the people the country has from tobacco will pale in comparison, saying that is why government needs to start now to turn the gains from tobacco into building blocks for a tobacco-free economy of the future.
On a new tobacco law, Act number 10 of 2019, President Dr. Chakwera said this law needs enforcement, no law is perfect and any imperfections in the law can be improved over time through legislative changes made by Parliament asking any industry players who feel that this law needs amendment, they should engage the Ministry of Agriculture on these changes saying until those changes are made, the existing law must be complied with fully, calling on the Tobacco Commission to ensure full compliance across the Board.
President Dr. Chakwera called for the need to address the problem of child labour as a matter of urgency, saying some of the tobacco buyers have not been able to export the tobacco they bought from growers because US Border posts effected a Withhold Release Order against Malawi tobacco on suspicion that it was produced under forced labour or child labour, wanting the Ministries of Labour, Agriculture and Homeland Security to collaborate in devising a solution to this problem.
By Vincent Gunde