President Peter Mutharika officially opened this year’s tobacco marketing season at Kanengo Auction Floors in Lilongwe with a call from tobacco buyers to offer good prices and reiterated that tobacco will remain Malawi’s main foreign exchange earner despite the ongoing global anti-smoking lobby. Mutharika said he will not stand aside and watch his farmers being exploited, pointing out that tobacco is a crop of national strategic importance for the role it plays in the national economy.
“My government will continue to engage with our customers overseas to ensure that our tobacco farmers are protected,” said Mutharika. “We are engaging different companies to explore and widen the tobacco exports to the US and other destinations globally.”
The opening of the season comes at a time the country is bound to yield lower than expected volume of tobacco on the backdrop of ravaging floods that damaged and washed away crops, including Malawi’s major foreign exchange earner, tobacco. The Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) is projecting that the country will yield 181.6 million kilograms (m.kg) of all tobacco varieties, namely burley, flue-cured, and dark-fired. Mutharika said the importance of tobacco to the Malawi economy cannot be overemphasized since it is contributing greatly to the country’s foreign exchange earnings.
“My government is therefore promoting tobacco production and marketing as a crop of strategic importance so that our farmers in the rural areas are economically empowered,” said Mutharika. The Malawi leader said his government is also determined to promote value addition to increase export earnings from tobacco through manufacturing of cigarettes, pipe tobacco snuff, cigars, and cigarillos.
Mutharika said he is aware that the tobacco industry is facing a lot of challenges and key among them is the issue of the anti-smoking lobby spearheaded by the World Health Organization Framework Convention in Tobacco Control in order to safeguard human health.
“This has had and will continue to have negative effects on demand for tobacco worldwide and may therefore seriously affect Malawi’s foreign exchange earnings and the livelihoods of our tobacco farmers.” Mutharika said Malawian tobacco growers should expect a bright future in tobacco growing and marketing following a series of meetings which the president has been having with the international customers.
“We have licensed three new buyers this year and one of them a Chinese company named Sino-Ma, which is ready to spend around US$30 million to purchase tobacco and set up a plant for processing secondary tobacco products like smokeless cigarettes,” he said.
Last year, Malawi earned US$362 million from 168 m.kg of tobacco at auction floors level, a figure similar to 2013.