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Malawi: Tobacco losing ground to potatoes

Lazarus Chakwera, president of Malawi

For decades, tobacco has been Malawi’s main foreign exchange earner. However, when he opened this year’s tobacco marketing season on Tuesday, president Lazarus Chakwera stunned his audience saying this industry is dying.

Production has dropped drastically due to, among other things, the anti-smoking lobby. That is why, on Tuesday, Chakwera brought out the harsh reality that Malawi must pursue other options.

Lazarus Chakwera:
"Farmers who are supposed to reap more fruits from the leaf have been ripped off through taxes and other dubious deductions."
As alternatives have been sought, some growers have already turned to Irish and sweet potatoes. Chimwemwe Mhango used to grow different varieties of tobacco since 2011 in Matemanga Village Traditional Authority (T/A) Mnyaluwanga in Nkhata Bay.

Chimwemwe Mhango:
"In 2015, I said ‘enough is enough’. For all the efforts I put into cultivating tobacco, I was getting nothing. When coming from the market, I was having paltry sums and I was always in quarrels with the tenants as I had nothing to pay them at the end of the day."
He switched to Irish potatoes in 2015, but it was only in 2019 that he started growing improved varieties and started to see real profits.

Malawi farmers already use improved Irish potato and orange-fleshed sweet potato varieties from the International Potato Centre (CIP), a research for development organisation focusing on potato, sweet potato and Andean roots and tubers. Through several projects, the organisation has partnered several stakeholders to delivering sustainable solutions to issues of hunger and climate change, among others.