Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera wants tobacco farmers to switch to other cash crops because he sees no future in the golden leaf, reports The Voice of America.
At the opening of tobacco selling season on Tuesday, Chakwera said Malawi should switch to other cash crops like cannabis, which was legalized last year for industrial and medicinal use. In preparation for cannabis cultivation, the country recently created a Cannabis Regulatory Authority.
Tobacco currently contributes more than 60 percent of the country’s export earnings, but demand for the leaf has been declining due to growing health awareness and global anti-smoking campaigns.
“We need an exit strategy to transition our farmers to crops that are more sustainable and more profitable,” Chakwera said.
“I am therefore calling on the Ministry of Agriculture to begin consultations with all stakeholders to come up with a timeframe within which Malawi’s economy will be completely weaned from tobacco.”
In the meantime, Malawi should promote greater competition in the tobacco industry by attracting more leaf buyers beyond the current nine, Chakwera said, suggesting that competition would increase prices.
In March, Malawi’s government signed an agreement with tobacco leaf buyers and set a minimum price of about $2.30 per kg. In the past, buyers would offer as little as $0.50 per kg of tobacco.
Skeptics said it could be difficult for tobacco farmers to switch to cannabis, citing skills and climate conditions, among other considerations.
Tobacco Reporter detailed the challenges facing Malawi’s tobacco sector in its July 2017 print edition (See “On the Map.”)