Malawi farmers hail tobacco IPS farming

Tobacco has indisputably remained the main cash crop in the country since time immemorial. Small, medium and large scale farmers have been looking at the crop for their annual pay. It has brought hope and moulded a lot of people’s lives.

One of the successful IPS farmers Masepo
One of the successful IPS farmers Masepo
Mchinji Field Area supervisor Antonio
Mchinji Field Area supervisor Antonio

However, with climate change taking its toll over the years, the rising of prices of seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, tobacco farming has become a challenge to farmers.

Nowadays, every selling season has had its story to tell, from low prices to closure of market due to differences between farmers and tobacco buyers.

The main reason has been poor leaf quality.

However, due to these problems, some companies have resorted to enter into an Integrated Production System (IPS) farming which is widely known as ‘contract’ farming among the farmers.

“I have been a tobacco farmer since 1986. It was always a hand to mouth farming since after every selling season, It was an issue of earning money for food, nothing more than that,” said Elizabeth Sajeni Masepo, a single mother with five children and nine grandchildren from TA Mabvele in Mchinji district.

After some years of toiling without concrete rewards, Masepo decided to venture into IPS farming in 2008 through Nsewe Farmers Club in the same area.

Through the system, she was able to get soft loans on seeds, fertilizers and chemicals from Alliance One Tobacco Limited.

“My life took a new turn in the first farming season such that after paying back my loan I started building a standard house, bought a motorcycle. Last year, I have managed to buy a new car and I am very determined that during this season I will have more,” she said.

Just like Masepo, Chitsa Khakhi of Tsokonombwe Farming Club of TA Nyoka in the same district has his story to tell.

“I started with a half hector in 2013 and had a profit of K970 000 after paying back all the loans. This was a good fortune because since I started tobacco farming in 2001, I had been getting less than K200 000.

“My life is changing because with the profit I have managed to buy a plot in Area 25 in Lilongwe where I have started building a house. I have also ventured into cattle farming,” said Khakhi who has expanded to one hector.

Boston Mbambo of Chatoloma Farming Club from TA Mnyanja in Kasungu is also one of the IPS shining examples.

He joined Alliance One Tobacco Limited group in 2010.

“Since then I have managed to earn about K10 million in 2014-2015 season from the three hectors I am farming tobacco. I have, since 2010 managed to build a very good house with solar electricity, bought a three tonne vehicle and motorcycles. I am a model to various farmers in this area,” he said.

Contract farming has also managed to transform tobacco tenants to medium scale farmers.

One of them is Solomoni Mwale, chairperson of Talakwanji Club in Nsenga Village, TA Mwase in Kasungu.

For 15 years, he has been a tenant from one of the tobacco estates in the district, living a life of those confined in the armpits of a master.

“After some encounters with various contract farmers, I decided to take a try because for 15 years I had been living a miserable life. I wanted to move out my four children out of a life time poverty circle.

“My first challenge was in 2011 when I had my first season as an IPS farmer with Alliance One Tobacco Limited. Since then, I have built a good house with solar electricity and I also have a motorcycle. My children are all now in various schools and my life changed completely,” he said.

Through IPS farming, Alliance One Tobacco Limited also provide farmers with maize seed and fertilizers so that  despite being deep into tobacco farming, their families should also be food secured.

In 2014-2015 farming season Masepo had harvested over 210 bags of maize.

“Once you are into tobacco IPS farming, you are assured that you will have enough food at your household level. With the current food shortage facing the country, it’s like we are living in different countries because we always have enough maize for food and some for sale,” she said.

Apart from maize production, Khakhi is also into groundnuts and  soya farming.

“The other important thing is also that Alliance One Tobacco Limited also promoting reforestation as one way of conserving the environment. Every farmer is advised to have a woodlot by his farm or house,” he said.

Khaki added,” we are also planting live barns through which we dry our tobacco which is a measure of tree preservation.”

After is said and done, farmers have a different taste from the tobacco IPS farming than a traditional way.

Alliance One Tobacco Limited Mchinji Area Field Supervisor Patrick Antonio lamented that the changes in profits from contract farmers is due to the quality leaf they harvest.

“They have all that is needed from quality seeds, fertilizers and chemicals to have a successful farming season. Club farmers also have timely supervision from the company’s field advisors hance they fetch good prices at the auction.” He said.

Antonio said the success of the tobacco IPS farming is manifested with the ever rising numbers of new farmers joining the system.

He said the number of the farmers in Mchinji Field Area has risen from 1002 last farming season to 2003 this season.

All the farmers under this system follow good agriculture labour practices which have seven principals such as  child labour, fair treatment, forced labour, safe work environment, freedom of association, compliance with the law and income and work hours.

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