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September 18, 2009

Malawi defends deportations of foreign tobacco buyers over pricing dispute

Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika has defended his decision to deport four senior foreign tobacco buyers for flouting fixed-price rules.

"For a long time I've been warning these exploitative colonialists to pay fair prices to farmers," he said.

The minimum prices were introduced for burley and flue-cured tobacco, Malawi's main export earners, last year. But buyers have resisted them, saying the global economic crisis has made them unrealistic.

The four expatriates, who included two chief executives, worked for three of the largest tobacco-buying companies in the southern African country.

"I will not accept for my people to be exploited," said Mr Mutharika, who also serves as Malawi's agricultural minister.

It is not the first time that Mr Mutharika has lost his temper with the buyers. In May he stormed the tobacco-auctioning floors to vent his frustration that the minimum price was not being paid to farmers.

It is estimated that more than 80% of Malawians are directly or indirectly employed by the tobacco industry.

Last month, aid organisation Plan International issued a report about the plight of children working on the farms.

It estimated that 75,000 children work on the estates and are exposed to high levels of nicotine poisoning.


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