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August 02, 2015

'Malawi will not feel guilty for growing tobacco,' says president

Tobacco is Malawi's main cash export crop (contributing 60% of foreign exchange earnings), although the sector's fortunes have waxed and waned over the years. Production for the 2014/15 season was 181 million kilograms, down from the previous year's 191 million kg. Prices for the various types of tobacco on the auction and contract-farming systems ranged from as low as 25 U.S. cents to $4/kg, depending on cultivation as well as curing quality.

What about the world's growing anti-smoking efforts? Should not a small economy that is disproportionately dependent on tobacco be seeking to move way from it? What about the issue of being so steeped in a product with now almost universally accepted as being harmful to human health?

These are provocative, fighting questions to President Peter Mutharika. "We are not forcing them to smoke, we are just growing tobacco so we don't have to feel guilty," he said. 'The market is going to go down, no doubt about it; but somebody is always going to smoke, whether it is in Vietnam or China or Taiwan."

It is said that 'Malawi's draft economic growth strategy proposes a diversified agricultural sector, where tobacco will be replaced by crops like cotton and cassava.' This should be cause for deep worry. Cotton is a dying, increasing unviable crop/sector for countries like Malawi, and cassava is very far from being a crop with any near-term potential to be a substitute for the export revenue that tobacco for now can still provide.

In other words, there is no post-tobacco plan in place at all! The crisis of a pretty much one-commodity economy (which commodity is being demonised in much of the world) can be dealt with at some time in the future-why stress over it now?! Besides, with any luck that will be a problem for some successor long after the current president's tenure to deal with. 

African Agriculture

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