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Malawi farmers struggle to cope as El Nino ravages tobacco harvest


Coupled with poor rainfall pattern which has seen up to half of the population of Malawians in need of food aid, the country’s major forex earner, tobacco, is facing a tough time on the auction floors.

Tobacco is the country’s biggest export crop. But farmers are worried because their produce no longer fetches good prices like it once did on the local market.

The drought has ravaged much of southern – Africa, but Malawi has been the worst-hit country with almost half of its population of about 15 million affected.

“It is common sense that this industry is on the verge of collapse. The best that can happen is for government to just ask us to stop growing this crop and diversify. For me, this year is my last. I have given up growing tobacco and I am cultivating potatoes” Said martin Douglas, a farmer.

While the government has established minimum prices for the leaf, buyers continue to pay less than the stipulated auction prices.

Companies have also began contracting individual farmers to grow and produce the crop. But some farmers like Benson Chisi says they are not making as much as they would if they took their harvest directly to the auction floors.

“The sales under the contract system are not rewarding at all. It used to be profitable when we were selling on auction because we were all selling at the same place and the buyers would compete for a higher price. But now with the contract system, the buyers are really reaping from us. They are making us poorer,” Chisi added.

Communications Manager for tobacco trading company Mark Ndipita said it is unlikely farmers will see much profit from tobacco this year.

“This is not a good picture in terms of revenue for the government. It is not also good in terms of the income for tobacco farmers who rely their livelihood on tobacco. But as a country, we know the government is promoting diversification but farmers that relied much on tobacco this year will suffer a big blow,” Ndipita said.

Tobacco accounts for more than 60 percent of the southern African country’s exports and 15 percent of its gross domestic product.

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