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April 05, 2011

Malawi: Let's face reality, tobacco era is done

Police in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, had to chase some angry tobacco farmers who stormed Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) offices with stones in protest against low prices.

This is not the first time that farmers have expressed helplessness at the auction floors despite artificial measures to prop up prices such as the setting of minimum buying prices for the golden leaf, as well as bringing in more players on the market which included buying companies wholly owned by government and other Malawians.

The question we should be asking ourselves, therefore, is: Why is it still not working?

The answer is obvious and it lies in the fact that tobacco is an endangered crop which is facing resistance from all corners of the world with the anti-smoking lobby championed by World Health Organisation and other entities.

This has been known for years and so the other question is: Why have we not diversified despite singing that song for over 20 years?

The answer is in the fact that tobacco, as a crop, empowers ordinary Malawians at the village level and any product that attempts to replace it must have just that element if is to have any fighting chance of success.

Any occupation, therefore, that wants to replace tobacco must not only keep the economy afloat but also empower ordinary Malawians as much as the crop does.

Prudence thus requires concerted effort to find such a replacement for ordinary Malawians.

But for starters, why can’t we commercialise maize-growing which is a staple food in almost the whole of Africa?

As a country, we already grow a lot of maize, one third of which is eaten up by weevils and some of it is kept in the strategic grain reserves for lean periods. The crop’s commercialisation will obviously ensure that we adopt modern methods of care and storage. After all, it will be a crop to keep the economy afloat apart from feeding the nation.

Otherwise, it seems tobacco, as a crop, is done. Let us face this reality.

The Nation

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