Tobacco, fondly christened Malawi’s green gold, will remain the country’s cash crop as Minister of Agriculture and Water development has declared that switching from tobacco to other crops is unrealistic as it would require huge investments and faults the World Health Organisation’s anti-smoking lobby that threatens the leaf’s growing.
Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Allan Chiyembekeza pointed out that tobacco is by far cheaper to produce and benefits more people than most of the next best alternatives.
Chiyembekeza was speaking in Lilongwe when he was opening a Tobacco Coalition for Eastern and Southern Africa conference also known as T5 Meeting .
Alliance One, Malawi Leaf, AHL Group, Agriculture Research and Extension (ARET), GTI, Universal Leaf, British American Tobacco, Tobacco Association of Malawi, were some of the companies present at the workshop which is being hosted by the Tobacco Control Commission as one way of preparing for the Seventh Tobacco Conference of Parties that will take place in India end this year.
The Agriculture Minister noted that Malawi is the biggest producer of burley tobacco in the world and the country’s economy depends on tobacco.
“Tobacco is, therefore, the crop that the country cherishes, and which my ministry cannot afford to ignore,” stressed Chiyembekeza.
He said tobacco is Malawi’s largest agricultural export product and provides more jobs per unit area than any other crop.
“Tobacco production sustains the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people and farmers with support from financial institutions have invested considerable amounts of resources to produce the crop in full respect for the environment and social rights,” said Chiyembekeza.
Chiyembekeza acknowledged over growing anti-smoking campaign that threatens tobacco farming—an activity that contributes around 13 percent of Malawi’s gross domestic product (GDP), rakes in around 60 percent of foreign currency earnings and accounts for 25 percent of tax revenue.
With such an influence, paralysing the industry could cripple the economy in a way that may take the country decades to recover.
He however said Malawi is committed to protect the public health and wants to have a broad consultative approach to deal with it.
Chiyembekeza hinted that “Malawi too would like to continue benefiting from it as a legal commodity while at the same time protecting public health” and it is in this regard that government would continue informing and civic educating the consumer on the dangers of tobacco and its products thereby giving them the freedom of choice.
However, the minister said government will also be promoting tobacco production and protecting it from the negative effects of imbalance and poorly informed tobacco control legislation adopted by countries which import tobacco.
Chiyembekeza said government will continue civic educating the consumers on the dangers of tobacco and products in order to give the consumers freedom of choice.
“Even if tobacco-finished products are deemed a risk for health, tobacco production sustains the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people and farmers. One particular concern for us is the current threat to exclude tobacco from international trade agreements. This is not only unfair but also risks becoming a precedent for other excessively restrictive legislation,” Chiyembekeza said.
During the meeting stakeholders will discuss “imbalanced and poorly informed tobacco control legislation adopted by countries which import tobacco,”
“One particular concern for us is the current threat to exclude tobacco from international trade agreements and to treat it in a special way, differently from other products which may effect health or the environment. This is not only fair but also risks becoming a precedent for other excessively restrictive legislation,” he said.
He said the coalition will give chance to member countries come up with collective in tackling issues facing tobacco leaf.
Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) Chief Executive Officer Dr Albert Changaya said the coalition has an agreement to recognize tobacco as being key to the economies,
“It is noted that there is an increased threat based on a concerted plan to eliminate the industry through increasingly regulatory proposal based on exclusion, the normalisation and prohibition,” said Changaya.
International Tobacco Growers Association president Francois Van Det Merwe too took a swipe at the concerted plan to eliminate the industry saying a lot of farmers from the developing countries survive on tobacco farming.
“We don’t have to make decisions from Geneva but they have to come to redeveloping countries and see how it is benefiting the communities, all that is needed is education and not banning the farming,” he said.
The outcome of the Lilongwe meeting with serve as an input to the Malawi position on the World Health Organization Framework Convetion on Tobacco Control 7th Conference of parties that will take place in India towards the end of 2016.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :