By Duncan Mlanjira
AHL Tobacco Sales has described as misrepresentation of facts by lawmaker and opposition Malawi Congress Party Secretary General Eisenhower Mkaka on the destruction of some tobacco bales classified as Return to Grower (RG), in which he claimed was a move to punish Central Region growers.
In a Facebook post, Mkaka claims that AHL classified over 4,000 tobacco bales as RG without consulting farmers and went ahead to destroy them.
A statement from AHL Tobacco Sales says Mkaka, as a lawmaker, should have known that it is not AHL’s role to classify tobacco.
“This is the task of the regulator as stipulated in section 84 of the Tobacco Industry Act following the prescribed set grades of tobacco,” says the statement released by AHL Public Relations Manager, Teresa Temweka Ndanga.
“The destruction of RG tobacco bales took place in all the four tobacco floors namely: Limbe, Mzuzu, Chinkhoma and Lilongwe. There was, therefore, no targeting of any region.
“All farmers were updated on the state of their tobacco through:
A. Seller’s sheets
B. SMS push platform whose subscription exceeds 30,000 farmers
C. AHL252, a mobile based platform through which farmers can track their bales and get all tobacco market information.”
The statement further says only the regulator, the Tobacco Commission, has the mandate as stipulated in section 92 of the Tobacco Industry Act to authorize destruction of tobacco bales, which is the last resort only taken after it is clear that the leaf cannot be re-handled and the farmer has failed to collect the bales, after due notice is given to the concerned grower.
“The law, mainly section 92 of the Tobacco Industry and regulation 23 of the Control of Tobacco Auction Floors (Licensed Auction Floors) Regulations, states that AHL Tobacco Sales can only keep the leaf that has been classified as RG for a period not exceeding two weeks.
“Thereafter, the selling floor is mandated to destroy or dispose off the bales of tobacco.
“This provision also aims at ensuring that tobacco beetles that often multiply through bad tobacco, should not infest the market premises as this would have dire effects on the oncoming season.”
Ndanga says after the market closed in September, AHL Tobacco Sales only destroyed the leaf in the first week of December.
AHL Tobacco Sales says it has since engaged the MCP lawmaker and Secretary General in efforts to help him have a better understanding of the laws governing the tobacco industry.
“AHL Tobacco Sales does not engage in politics. Its role is to provide a tobacco market that brings together various stakeholders including farmers and buyers.
“The market is transparent and all stakeholders are provided with updates on market operations,” Ndanga said.