Mutharika opens Malawi tobacco market amidst protests

Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika on Monday officially opened the 2012 tobacco marketing season at Kanengo Auction Floors in Lilongwe amid rigorous protests from growers against the low prices offered by the buyers.

The President – a tobacco farmer himself – was scheduled to officially open the market at around 09:00hrs but he had to delay the programme following the protests by the growers.

Armed police had to chase out scores of growers from the Auction Floors in order to save the face of the President from embarrassment.

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

Just like last season, the buyers were not contented with the quality of some leaf and offered as little as 70 cents per kg, a development that angered the growers.

However, it was not all doom for the buyers as some quality tobacco fetched as high as US$2.20 per kg.

The farmers almost caused mayhem at the floors as they went wild and demanded the market to close. Others threw the leaves in the air as a sign of anger and despair.

But speaking when he opened the market, Mutharika bemoaned the growers’ conduct and urged them to remain patient as things “are being sorted out.”

“Today we are just opening of the market and if the prices are not in your favour do not become violent because that [conduct] will not make increase the price,” Mutharika pleaded with the growers.

He added: “I want you think about it… I urge you to be patient, give us and the people responsible time to sort out the issue.”

The President also called for bargaining between the growers and buyers arguing the tobacco market should not be taken as a battle field.

“The tobacco market is like any other market. It involves bargaining and it is not a battle field,” said Mutharika in a somewhat jovial mood.

Summary of what happened

7:00 am Tobacco sales start at the Lilongwe auction floors.

8:00 am Farmers throw ndindi at buyers, Auction and TCC officials in protest against low prices

8:08 am Farmers protest inside and outside the floors demanding that the Kwacha be devalued.

9:00 am The tobacco sales are suspended as people protest “no sale” bales and demand better prices for their tobacco.

9:09 am Malawi Leaf ( a subsidiary of Auction holdings) moves into damage control or deception mode by removing no sale tags and buying the rejected tobacco but yet they were part of the buyers when the auction was being done.

9:46 am Bingu arrives at the floors. As tobacco sales have been suspended earlier, a fake auction is organized for Bingu to observe.

10:02 As bingu inspects bales already sold he is disappointed and requires an explanation from Mr Evance Matabwa the CEO of Auction. The CEO of Alliance one smuggly answers that “its normal”

11:30 am Bingu effectively admits that he was wrong to introduce minimum prices for tobacco as the tobacco market like any other market works on willing buyers-willing seller basis, therefore factors of demand and supply come into play.

11:46 am A snake upstages Mutharika’s speech by choosing to appear at ruling DPP women  sending the hapless women scampering for dear life.

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