By John Saukira
Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has admitted that there is no crop to immediately replace tobacco as the country’s major cash earner despite all efforts to try diversification.
One article of the Agricultural policy that is in place calls for crop diversification to tobacco in order to move from its over-dependency.
Speaking when he opened this year’s Tobacco Industry conference at Ufulu Garden in the Capital City Lilongwe, the Ministry’s Principal Secretary, Nyandule Phiri said Government is currently looking at ways and means of promoting diversification to tobacco following numerous challenges affecting the crop such as the global anti-smoking campaign.
“The country is yet to identify economically sustainable alternatives to tobacco growing as part of its sustainable rural development agenda,” he said. “The process is ongoing and is likely going to take some time.
“Therefore, up until an effective alternative has been identified, we as a country can only diversify with tobacco.”
He said the conference is therefore of great importance not only to the tobacco industry but to the entire nation and government expects the delegates to come up with effective strategies that will make tobacco production and marketing a sustainable enterprise for Malawians.
“This conference serves as a forum for reviewing the industry performance during the ended tobacco season and therefore a time for self-reflection for all industry stakeholders,” he said.
Nyandule also urged the stakeholders to find ways and means of dealing with the problem of child labour.
“One of the biggest challenges that the tobacco industry is currently facing is the prevalence of child labour in tobacco growing areas. There are numerous media reports of farmers using child labour in tobacco production and this can seriously affect the marketability of our tobacco on the global market if not checked and eventually eliminated.
“Tobacco buyers are reluctant to purchase tobacco that has used child labour in its production process and I therefore earnestly call upon all tobacco buyers to stop the use of child labour in tobacco production.
“Government will put in place stringent measures to monitor and stamp out child labour in tobacco production,” Nyandule said.
The PS beamoned effects environmental deforestation associated with the tobacco industry and challenged the stakeholders to find solutions.
“There are environmental degradation, mostly attributed to tobacco farming, we need to take bold steps of arresting the situation. It is therefore imperative that stakeholders play an active role in reforestation drive by making it an integral part of our production system.
“As Government, we shall ensure that such initiatives are greatly supported.”
In his remarks, Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) board chairperson Inkosi ya Makosi Mmbelwa V said the conference brings unity of purpose for all stakeholders as they draw plans and programmes that will move the Malawi tobacco industry ahead in the face the existing challenges.
He urged the delegates to take the conference seriously and focus on matters that will take the industry forward in areas of production, marketing and value addition.
“There are numerous areas where we can pool and share information and resources to uplift the industry. I have in mind issues such as social responsibility programmes, reforestation initiatives, child labour matters, as well as the fight against HIV and Aids. Together we can achieve what each one of us individually cannot.”
Some of stakeholders present at the conference included TAMA president Abiel Masache Banda; ARET chairman Reuben Maigwa; Tobacco Processors Association chairman Hugh Saunders; AHL Group CEO Dr. Evans Matabwa, NASFAM CEO Bettie Chinyamunyamu; Acting CEO and Director of ARET Harrison Ofesi just to mention a few.