COVID-19 Drives Malawi Tobacco Farmers To The Brink

Restrictions imposed to control the spread of the novel coronavirus in Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries, and one of the top 10 tobacco producers, has made tobacco farmers in Malawi feeling cheated.

The farmers were barred from physically attending the auctions where prices are set, which resulted in a protest by the farmers who accused authorities of siding with the buyers to short-change them.

Betty Chinyamunyamu of the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi said, “We are not operating normally as there is no interaction between the buyer and the grower.

“Because of this, there are trust issues.”

The AFP news agency gathered that when the auction season opened in April, Namate and other small-scale farmers said their earnings had indeed evaporated.

“The prices that came from the auction are not what we expected. We are devastated,” said Namate.

Burley leaf from Malawi makes up 6.6 per cent of the world’s tobacco exports.

Known locally as “green gold”, it is Malawi’s top crop in terms of employment.

It also accounts for over 50 per cent of foreign exchange earnings and 23 per cent of tax revenues. So, when its 50,000 growers suffer, the country has every reason to be worried.

In November, last year, the United States of restricted tobacco imports from Malawi over allegations of worker exploitation and child labour. And the coronavirus has turned up the heat on farmers even more trouble

But auctioneers and large-scale growers insist that the farmers are not being short-changed by buyers.

“Farmers are not cheated on the sales,” said Felix Thole, Chief Executive of the Tobacco Association of Malawi Farmer’s Trust, which represents large-scale growers.

He pointed out that growers had continued to be represented on the market by farmers’ associations.

“Auction sales, bidding continues by the individual buyers, only this time around there is no chanting of the prices. Buyers continue competing and the highest bidder gets the bale,” Thole argued.

But Malawi’s main opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera believes farmers have been unfairly treated.

“The government gets a lot of foreign earnings through this particular industry and yet the farmer is treated like a labourer that should not even prosper,” he said.

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