Bingu ‘ceasefire’ on Malawi tobacco buyers

After about three years of warfare with foreign tobacco buyers, Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika has swallowed his pride and conceded that tobacco market was not a battle field.

Mutharika declared the ‘cessation of hostilities’ when he officially opened the 2012 tobacco marketing season at the Kanengo Auction Floors in the capital, Lilongwe.

In what most analysts have described as one of the level headed speeches to come from him in recent times, the President said it was not his wish to be fighting with the buyers every time he opens the floors but circumstances have been forcing him to do so.

Malawi’s gold leaf: President Bingu wa Mutharika and Agriculture Minister Prof Peter Mwanza at auction floors

“Today I have not come here to wage war against any tobacco buyer or grower,” Mutharika told the gathering.

“The tobacco market is like any other market. It involves bargaining and it should not be a battle field,” he said.

“ I don’t come here year in year out to fight with you, I come here to negotiate prices on behalf of the farmers so that they can smile and I do not expect us to fight this year, let us discuss,” said Mutharika amid wild applause from the people.

He said it was disheartening to note that most tobacco buyers were multimillionaires and yet they were buying the leaf at low prices.

“The better the prices you give to the farmers, the better the tobacco they bring next year. So let us cooperate to make this year’s tobacco market season a better one,” said Mutharika.

Unlike this year, during the past few marketing seasons, Mutharika has been at loggerheads with the foreign tobacco buyers over the issue of prices.

He described them as colonists and also accused them of sabotaging his economy by rejecting good-quality leaves and offering low prices.

In 2011, he even deported four top tobacco buyers after they failed to adhere to the minimum prices which he set for them. The four were Kevin Stainton and Van der Merwe of Limbe Leaf Tobacco Company, Colin Armstrong of Alliance One and Alex Mackay of Premium Tama.

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