Tobacco farmers hail Nankhumwa for championing positive reforms

The Tobacco Association of Malawi (TAMA) says tobacco farmers in the country are excited at the prospect of positive policy reforms, which the new Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Minister, Kondwani Nankhumwa is instituting in the tobacco industry.

Nankhumwa at the tobacco auction floors this wek

TAMA publicist, Sam Kalimba, said farmers have been pushing for various reforms in the tobacco industry for a long time with minimal results.

Nankhumwa seems to have taken personal interest in the tobacco sector, “a crucial sub-sector in the Ministry and even more critical to the growth of the Malawian economy”, he noted.

“Farmers are now happy because since the new minister came at the helm, we have noticed some progress. We have witnessed his personal interest to move things in the positive direction. We appreciate his efforts,” Kalimba told Nyasa Times in an interview, adding that this is evidenced by his efforts to interact with various tobacco stakeholders, including farmers, publicly and behind the scenes.

“The Minister of Agriculture has been meeting with critical stakeholders in the tobacco sector to re-align efforts and cultivate a common accommodation for all stakeholders to ensure that government’s goal to optimize economic growth through the tobacco sector is achieved.

“It is obvious from what we have seen so far that the minister wants to ensure that tobacco growers are earning enough from their toil so that they are happy to continue growing the cash crop and to ensure sustainable production,” noted Kalimba.

Kalimba said tobacco farmers were particularly thankful for the recent announcement by the minister that government through the Tobacco Commission (TC) had lifted a quota ban to ensure that all tobacco is sold before the market season closes. So far, 2.6 million KGs of tobacco have been registered for sale since the ban came into effect.

Before the quota ban lift, many growers were unable to take their tobacco to the selling floors because their production quotas had been exhausted.

But Nankhumwa told reporters in Blantyre last week that measures had been put in place to ensure that the tobacco market, which commenced in May 2019, is concluded in good time and that no tobacco grower remains with unsold tobacco.

Tobacco, rakes in over 60% of the foreign exchange earnings for the country, which is the highest by far for any crop more than sugar, tea and coffee combined. This is also despite the fact that there is currently a growing anti-smoking lobby around the world aimed stopping people from smoking tobacco.

While acknowledging the huge pressure from anti-smoking lobbyists, Nankhumwa told Nyasa Times in Blantyre last week that while government is encouraging crop diversification, tobacco would continue to the country’s economic backbone “because the demand for tobacco still exists”.

He emphasized that the tobacco industry has a special place in his new focus at the Ministry of Agriculture being the country’s biggest foreign exchange earner and key to the growth of the economy.

“However, the sustainability of tobacco will be assured only if farmers produce high quality tobacco. That is my overriding responsibility since His Excellency President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika entrusted me with this very crucial and strategic ministry,” said the minister, who is also the governing DPP VP for Southern Region and Leader of the House.

He said that if efforts can be invested to promote best practices in the tobacco sector, Malawi will be able to optimize earnings from tobacco and uplift the lives of a lot of Malawians from the resultant economic growth’s ripple effects.

Nankhumwa said it is against this backdrop that his ministry is putting in place comprehensive measures to ensure that the tobacco industry is properly fixed from the production side of the value chain.

He said his Ministry is putting in place mechanisms to ensure that tobacco farmers have constant access to loans from financial lending institutions as well as enhanced and improved extension services for smallholder farmers. This, he said, would help tobacco farmers invest in best practices right from nursery to the time the tobacco is sold at the auction floors in order to maximize their earnings.

“This is the reason why I think the reforms that my Ministry is taking should focus on revamping the whole tobacco production value chain so that the real gains should begin to make real economic impact in the short, medium to long term,” concluded the youthful minister.

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