Tobacco growers want JTI expelled from Malawi

Some tobacco growers who have dumped with thousands of unsold tobacco bales by JTI Leaf Malawi despite being in contract to grow the leaf for the company, have asked the Malawi government to expel the company from the company for undermining their welfare and the economic interests of the country.

Tobacco grower Reuben Peter of Asani Club in Kasiya
One of the growers Mavuto Mickson of Limanda Club in Mponela: Shocked
Haston Kauma Banda of Kumdima Club: JTI sucks
Tobacco bale

The calls follow developments at Malawi’s tobacco auction floors this week where JTI stopped buying tobacco from Monday, July 16, 2018 while hundreds of growers it contracted to grow its tobacco requirements are still remaining with unsold bales, some of it already delivered at the auction floors.

Speaking in Lilongwe on Friday, one of the growers Mavuto Mickson of Limanda Club in Mponela, said he was shocked to be told that his bales have been moved to the auction side when he grew it under contract with JTI.

“I was contracted to produce 1,800 bales but the company has just bought 1,000 bales. They stopped buying as soon as I sold them enough bales to repay their loan. Is that how we do business? Where is the morality at JTI?” wondered Mickson.

He said what was making things worse was that other companies are not willing to buy the tobacco left by JTI, saying they are only buying from their own contracted farmers and independent sellers on the auction floors.

He called on the government to come in and protect the growers as they had no powers to challenge the company.

“If the company insists on dumping us, they should be kicked out of the country,” said Mickson, sounding very angry and frustrated.

Another grower, Reuben Peter of Asani Club in Kasiya shared a similar story, saying he was scared to go home as he did not know what to tell his family and tenants.

“All the tobacco I have sold has been used to repay the loan I had with JTI. I was banking on these remaining bales to pay my tenants, support my family and buy inputs for coming rainy season. I don’t know what to do now,” complained Peter.

He also called for an urgent intervention from the government.

“We have now just been turned into tenants for the growers. JTI should be told to honour its obligations in the contracts. Otherwise, they should be chased from this country,” said Peter.

On his part, Haston Kauma Banda of Kumdima Club in Mponela said it would be the end of his tobacco growing venture if JTI does not buy his remaining tobacco.

“I have nothing now because I have used all my earnings to repay my loan with JTI. Unless the remaining bales are bought at agreed prices, I will have literally nothing to invest in growing next season,” said Banda.

He described JTI as an exploiter who should not be allowed to continue operating in the country.

“These people must be told to go if the government really cares about the welfare of its people,” said Banda.

JTI’s communications manager Jayne Nyirenda said the company needs a week to explain its side of the story while Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) chief executive officer, Kaisi Sadala, said they were still gathering more information on the matter before taking a firm position.

However, in a letter dated July 11 signed by JTI Leaf Malawi Managing Director, Fries Vanneste, asked TCC to change the status of listed contracted growing clubs from contract to auction “due to un-proportional crop throw of tobacco delivered by these growers”.

However, TCC through its Director of Technical Operations, Joseph Kawinga, wrote JTI back on July 13 instructing them to continue buying tobacco from its contracted growers “as legally required”.

“It is only once you have completed that assignment that TCC will consider allowing you to pull out of the market,” wrote TCC in the letter.

JTI has since defied TCC’s order by completely withdrawing from the auction floors.

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