Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Water Development, Aggrey Masi, has warned that government will prosecute intermediate tobacco buyers who he said continue to exploit farmers.
He said for many years, the tobacco industry has been marred by irregularities courtesy of the unscrupulous traders who take advantage of the desperation of the smallholder farmers in need of fast cash for basic necessities.
Masi disclosed that it is high time the long tentacles of the law caught up with such illicit traders who are responsible for some of the bottlenecks that have rocked the tobacco industry which is the country’s major foreign exchange earner.
“Government does not condone intermediate buying of tobacco, needless to say that it is illegal as per laws of the land and if anyone is found, they will be prosecuted. So I appeal to everyone involved in the malpractice to desist from it,” said Masi after presiding over the official opening of the Mzuzu Auction Floors Wednesday.
He said it is in government’s interest to ensure that all farmers get a fair reward for their labour through competitive prices.
He thus appealed to various stakeholders to champion the reforms in the tobacco industry in order to create a win-win situation between the buyers and the farmers.
“Just like in the previous seasons, government has again set minimum prices for different tobacco types and grades to ensure that farmers make the best out of their hard work. I, therefore, don’t expect any buyer to offer prices below the set minimum prices,” Masi said.
Following the global problems that the tobacco industry is facing, Masi encouraged farmers to seriously consider diversifying into other profitable enterprises that would continue to accelerate Malawi’s socio-economic development.
Chairperson of the Tobacco Control Commission (TCC), regulator of the industry, Inkosi Ya Makosi M’mbelwa V, reiterated that intermediate buyers who are usually vendors and estate owners offer very low prices to the farmers.
He then called for patience among smallholder farmers to ensure that their leaf is sold legally at the competitive market where the TCC is mandated to bargain for better market terms.
“Let me encourage farmers to avoid any malpractice that might jeopardise their chances of maximising profits such as including non-tobacco items in the bales and also bringing moist tobacco which ends up being rejected,” M’mbelwa said.
He then hailed the buyers for offering good prices on the first day of sales at the Mzuzu Auction Floors where the best leaf on contract farming fetched as high as $4.35 while burley tobacco on auction farming was bought at $2.20.