Malawian President Peter Mutharika has said the country will continue to grow tobacco and will not feel guilty about it amidst opposition from anti-smoking groups, saying people have been smoking even before Jesus Christ walked on this earth.
Mutharika saod Malawi would continue to support the tobacco industry, the mainstay of the economy and the country’s second largest employer after the government, until alternative cash crops were found.
In an interview published in the London-based New African magazine, Muthatrika asserted that Malawi cannot stop growing tobacco overnight and will continue growing tobacco based on trade requirements until when there is no demand,
He said people have the option to smoke or not to smoke.
“We are not forcing them to smoke, we are just growing tobacco so we don’t have to feel guilty,” Mutharika said.
The Malawi leader pointed out that tobacco forms about 60% of our foreign exchange earnings.
“When I was in Washington last year, I talked to all the big US tobacco companies about the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and the activities of the tobacco lobby. 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,” said Mutharika.
President Mutharika stressed that people have been smoking since time immemorial “even before Jesus Christ walked on this earth. And people will continue to smoke. So there will always be a market, it may be smaller, but it will be there.”
However, Mutharika said Malawi will diversify its economy from tobacco, by going into mining and other cash crops.
“ We are going to put one million hectares of land under irrigation at Salima near Lake Malawi to grow rice, legumes, sugar cane, and mangoes. We hope that with mining and diversification for other crops, we can reduce our dependence on tobacco,” said Mutharika.
“But I don’t think people will completely stop growing tobacco. I was even told by the US tobacco giant, Philip Morris, that they are coming up with new forms of tobacco because of the danger inherent in smoking.
“They are also going to increase their research into less dangerous tobacco to ensure that the industry survives. At the moment Malawi is dependent on tobacco, but we are moving away slowly to other areas,” said Mutharika.
Malawi’s draft economic growth strategy proposes a diversified agricultural sector, where tobacco will be replaced by crops like cotton and cassava.
Greater emphasis on mining, tourism and manufacturing is also planned—although this has been met with scepticism from certain business representatives.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :