Summit persuades Malawi smallholder tobacco farmers to diversify to new crops

Malawian smallholder tobacco farmers need to diversify away from relying more on tobacco by preparing themselves for the distant future since the country’s ‘green gold’ spells doom on the economic gains of the crop.

Prince Kapondamgaga: The reality is we still need tobacco in the next 10 or 20 years

Nyandule Phiri: We better start now to explore other profitable enterprises

This was said at  the Stakeholders to the Agricultural Transformation Initiative (ATI) and Foundation for a Smoke Free World summit in Lilongwe which seeks to improve global health by ending smoking in this generation but are identifying viable economic alternatives for smallholder tobacco farmers to invest in alternate profitable market opportuities.

Tobacco, Malawi’s main cash crop and forex earner for many years, is facing an unprecedented anti-smoking campaign worldwide which is leading to the reduction of volume and prices of the crop.

The development is worrying farmers and stakeholders who now think that an alternative crop is not only important but inevitable.

Realizing this, ATI and the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, who seek to improve global health by ending smoking in this generation, are identifying viable economic alternatives for smallholder tobacco farmers and invest in alternate profitable market opportuities.

The summit in Lilongwe, which began Tuesday and ends Wednesday, enables stakeholders to formulate strategies that would help ATI and the foundation to achieve their goal.

The stakeholders include Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM), Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET), Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) and several others.

Speaking when he officially opened the summit on Tuesday morning, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water development, Grey Nyandule Phiri, commended ATI, saying their interventions are timely.

“We better start now to explore other profitable enterprises within the agriculture sector. We need to try out livestock production, fisheries, fruit production and even bee keeping,” Nyandule Phiri said.

“We are emphasising that farmers should be diversifying their tobacco with other crops. Replacing tobacco should be a gradual process. Legumes and cotton would be other better alternatives,” he said.

Already, ATI and the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World have kick started a dairy farming project among smallholder tobacco farmers in TA Msimphasi in Mchinji in which they have pumped in US$50,000.

FUM Chief Executive Officer, Prince Kapondamgaga said initiatives such as these are good but he stressed that no crop can promptly replace tobacco in Malawi at the moment.

“The gross margin of legumes and other crops in the country is far much less to that of tobacco. The reality is we still need tobacco in the next 10 or 20 years,” he said.

Currently, tobacco contributes 60% of all export earnings for Malawi.

Giving credence to what Nyandule Phiri said, Kapondamgaga emphasized that smallholder tobacco farmers should be encouraged to complement their tobacco with other businesses and livelihoods.

ATI Country Director Candida Nankhumwa and Foundation for a Smoke-Free World President Dr Derek Yach also agree, saying diversifying an economy as important as tobacco is not as simple as switching to another crop.

The two said they would work with various stakeholders in creating a new set of economic drivers and build a case for the structured investments required to make the switch a reality.

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Madala Madala

Dziko latsala pang’ono kuthadi eti? Isn’t it ironic that countries are discouraging the smoking of tobacco but are at the same time legalizing marijuana? Siyani kulima fodya, koma yambani kulima chamba.

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