Lilongwe — Tobacco captains have described the just-ended tobacco market season as the worst in many years, attributing this year's low prices to President Bingu wa Mutharika's minimum prices.
The low prices are against Mutharika's vision, who at the opening of the tobacco market dictated to buyers maximum and minimum prices for all tobacco.
But Tobacco Association of Malawi (Tama) president Albert Kamulaga said in an interview that since the buyers did not adhere to the dictates of the president, Mutharika's initiative did not pay expected dividends.
"On the dictates of the president, I would say that since nobody followed the orders [dictates], it did not assist anyone. I am saying this because nobody followed the dictates over pricing. Had buyers followed them, the market would have been better," said Kamulaga.
He said failure by buyers to adhere to the presidential order meant they wanted to show that they do not want to be dictated on prices.
Added Kamulaga: "Buyers looked as if they don't want to be dictated — that is what we have seen of the market and that affected prices. Of course, their explanation has been that the quality on offer and quality [style] on demand were different, but surely they behaved as if they didn't want to be dictated to."
Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) Board Chair Andrew Mzumacharo in a separate interview agreed with Kamulaga, stressing the prices were not reasonable and much had to be done.
"This has been a very bad year, poor prices have dominated the market and the prices were nowhere near the usual," said Mzumacharo. "This is a funny trade, buyers don't base their prices on reality. They have surely not conducted themselves well."
Mzumacharo said despite the fact that prices picked up toward the end of the market season, there were still more reasons to qualify the season as “pathetic.”
Both captains believe the low prices were a disaster and could have long effects on the industry, especially on serious growers.
"Generally, due to the fact that the market has not been good, it is also pathetic to note that most commercial farmers have either withdrawn or reduced normal production levels. Prices were pathetic and as far as I am concerned, those who sold earlier cannot even recover costs. The prices were only better towards the end," said Kamulaga.
Top tobacco buyers have recently come under fire from various stakeholders for their apparent conspiracy to offer low prices on flimsy excuses like low quality and availability of external matters in tobacco bales.
Mutharika himself has called tobacco buyers “thieves” and threatened them with deportation if they continue cheating local farmers through low prices.