By Vincent Nhlema
The National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (NASFAM) has called for improvements in the tobacco contract farming, marketing and pricing to ensure that the producer, especially smallholder farmers, get a fair deal in the business.
NASFAM Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Betty Chinyamunyamu, made the call when she submitted the association’s input into the Tobacco Bill to the joint Parliamentary Committee tasked to solicit views to be incorporated into the Bill.
The Bill is scheduled to be presented in parliament once authorities are done with the consultations.
Chinyamunyamu observed that while Section 44 of the Bill stipulates that a grower who enters into contract farming shall commit the whole of their crop for that season to the single buyer, the section does not oblige the buyer to buy all the leaf from the contracted producer.
“And this gives buyers room to take out some clubs from the contract in the course of the season, as well as opting not to buy some of the tobacco arguing that they have reached their quota. The farmer will be on the losing end. There is need to elaborate this section so that the contract serves the interests of both parties,” she said.
Chinyamunyamu, among many issues presented at the meeting, emphasised the need for fair and improved prices in the tobacco industry so ensure producers benefit from their sweat.
She said, “Part VI of Section 25 indicates that the Minister may, before the beginning of each tobacco selling season, set minimum prices for that particular season. NASFAM agrees with the spirit behind the provision, but our recommendation is that minimum prices should be set and communicated to farmers prior to the growing season as opposed to the marketing season. Such an approach will help farmers make right decisions on whether to grow tobacco that year or invest their resources on other crops depending on price.
“The problem with setting and communicating minimum prices prior to the marketing season is that farmers are held captive since they have already produced the crop and are forced to sell irrespective of the price considering there are no alternative markets for tobacco. Tobacco is different from other crops, which, if the price is not profitable, can be kept until a better market is available, or consumed by the producer.”
NASFAM, established in 1997, is one of the largest associations in Malawi servicing over 130,000 farmers in 22 districts of Malawi, out which around 50,000 are tobacco producers.