Malawi - survey indicates fewer farmers to grow tobacco..

December 17, 2009 - An initial survey conducted by stakeholders through the Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) shows that a significant number of tobacco growers will not grow the crop this year because of low prices experienced at the auction floors in the just ended selling season.

Landlocked Malawi, one of the poorest in the world, derives up to 70 percent of its foreign exchange earnings from tobacco and 80 percent of the country's labor force works in the tobacco industry. (Malawi - how can this country survive without tobacco??)

A summary of the Tobacco Industry Survey conducted in November and sourced by The Business Times, however, shows that part of the farmers getting out of tobacco may be offset by a number of cotton growers in the Southern Region who have decided to venture into tobacco growing after being disappointed by cotton this year.

The summary says that the survey which was based on seed beds prepared by growers as nurseries for their tobacco, shows a good number of growers, estimated by another industry executive at between 20 to 40 percent, have dropped out of tobacco growing this season.

It describes most of the disappointed growers as speculators who joined the farming with the hope of making a killing following good prices experienced in 2008.

“A preliminary Tobacco Industry Survey shows speculative growers have not found tobacco growing attractive this year, but hard core farmers, especially in the central region who depend solely on the crop for their survival will continue, albeit on a somehow reduced scale,” reads an analysis of the survey done by a Blantyre-based bank economist.

Most farmers, says the summary, informed the survey that because of low earnings from the crop last selling season, they are unable to grow the crop normally as they do not have enough financial resources to buy inputs and pay for other costs for the production of the crop.

In the southern region, which accounts for most of the speculative growing, some of the cotton farmers have abandoned their crop in favour of tobacco, according to the analysis of the survey.

Tobacco Association of Malawi (Tama) Chief Executive Felix Mkumba said his association was eagerly awaiting for the results of the survey. He said, however, what was important was for Malawi to ascertain the international demand for the crop when looking at what the country would produce this year. “We have to strike a balance with the international demand because what really rules the market is demand and supply,” said Mkumba.

In the just ended tobacco season Malawi produced about 130 million kilogrammes of tobacco up from 94 million kilogrammes the previous year, a development that was seen as an overproduction and a key factor behind the poor prices for the crop experienced at the auction floors.

Tobacco is Malawi’s leading forex (foreign exchange)earner and any under production is cause for concern.

Reference: Survey shows drop in tobacco farming, written by Thom Khanje, Teh Daily Times, 12/16/2009.

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