Tobacco: Malawi’s sad story

Low tobacco prices are among the many underlying reasons why President Mutharika’s popularity is at its all time low in recent months.

Farmers work on a tobacco farm

In the early days of Malawi, tobacco was the mainstay. Over 2 million people depended on it for their livelihood in related industries; it’s been the main foreign currency earner accounting for more than 70 percent of the country’s exports and 15 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP). But that tobacco story is slowly but surely, going. For the last two years, tobacco prices have been low and left many peasant farmers destitute. Output has slowed. This  year Malawi expects to produce 218,000 tonnes of tobacco, down from an initial estimate of 232,000 tonnes and below last year’s output. Many believe that all this is self inflicted – the President is to blame. He expelled from Malawi a top executive of an American buying company and now the tobacco prices are worse than last year and the years before that. Consequently, farmers are deep in debt. “I borrowed K150,000 to buy inputs for my tobacco, I managed to sale all my tobacco at only K55,000…how am I going to pay the loan, send my children to school and grow tobacco next season?” asks a worried Lukas Phiri, a Kasungu farmer. Phiri represents many poor farmers in such predicaments. Meanwhile, the President and his cronies are getting richer and richer and are not offering any solutions to all these problems.