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Malawi President Kicks off Tobacco Selling Season Saying Hemp Will Be The Future

Malawi’s president chose the start of the annual tobacco selling season to signal that has lost faith in that commodity and wants to see it replaced with hemp and medicinal cannabis.


President serious about reducing tobacco dependency

Many observers were taken by surprise by President Chakwera’s statement as Malawi depends on 60% of its revenue from tobacco sales. The seriousness of the president’s intentions was underlined in his instruction on 20 April 2021 to the Ministry of Agriculture to engage with stakeholders about a tobacco exit timetable.


President Chakwera (left) inspecting tobacco at the start of the season


However, Malawi has clearly indicated its aim to reduce its dependence on tobacco by widespread plantings of CBD cannabis and hemp. It does not consider legalalizing ‘adult use’ cannabis either for export plantings or domestic consumption.

See all the developments leading up to this on Cannabiz Africa’s Malawi news page

Chakwera said the ongoing anti-global smoking campaigns championed by the World Health Organization (WHO) were reducing world tobacco demand and that this meant Malawi’s tobacco industry was “dying”. He said the country had to look at alternative crops, the most lucrative replacements being cannabis for industrial and medical use.

“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.”

The president said growing cannibis, better known as marijuana, would be a smart substitute for Malawian farmers.


Not all tobacco farmers happy with plans to switch to hemp

“Recently, we enacted a law which allows the growing of industrial cannabis,” he said. “This will also help farmers to earn a lot of money because there is a lot of money in it.” 


Tobacco is Malawi’s main export crop – not good for the long term


Chakwera said in the meantime, there is a need to end the market monopoly which results in low tobacco prices in the country.

“Addressing this power imbalance, (it) is for the Ministry of Agriculture to work with Tobacco Control Commission on ways of attracting more buyers beyond the nine we currently have,” he said. “In that way, there is more competition and less monopoly among buyers. Because monopoly is one of the factors that contributes to the disempowerment of the farmers.”

In March, Malawi’s government signed an agreement with tobacco leaf buyers and set a minimum price of about $230 per kilogram. In the past, buyers would offer as little as $0.50 per kilogram of tobacco.  Although hemp prices have been dropping in the last quarter as more production comes in, the current price for hemp biomass is US$9 000 a kilogram.

Despite the mind-blowing increase in profitability illustrated here, many Malawians are suspicious of the president’s relatively new stampede towards hemp.

Betchani Tchereni, an economics lecturer at the University of Malawi, supports the call to stop growing tobacco, but said it won’t be easy.

“Yes, he (Chakwera) is very right. But at the beginning, first, the second and maybe even the third year, it will be tough for us to acclimatize to the new stuff,” Tchereni said. “But we just have to go to the new stuff. We just have to go into ground nuts, beans, industrial hemp — research has shown us that that’s where money is.”

Some farmers said the call to stop tobacco farming is disappointing.

Isaac Sambo, a tobacco farmer in central Malawi’s Kasungu district, said he was surprised to hear the president’s recommendation, and had expected the president to help find more tobacco markets. Sambo added that it is very difficult to switch to other crops, and that not all crops can adapt to some weather conditions.

Chakwera said he knows that many farmers will not like the idea of switching from tobacco, but he will not shy away from telling the truth.

Cannabis for recreational use remains illegal.

While lawmakers discussed the bill, police in the town of Nkhotakota were burning three tons of marijuana confiscated from dealers last year.

“The hemp is continuously being illegally grown in remote parts of Malawi and smuggled out of the country, and part of what is confiscated accumulates in the police stores and burning it is necessary to free up space,” Nkhotakota police spokesman Williams Kaponda said.

Malawi’s new law allows for the establishment of the Cannabis Regulatory Authority, which will grant licenses to cultivate, process, store, sell, export and distribute. It also will issue permits to firms and institutions to conduct scientific research.

Those found cultivating, processing or distributing cannabis illegally will face up to 25 years in prison and a fine of nearly $70,000.

Seven years ago, Malawi’s government granted authorization to two firms to conduct research trials on hemp for industrial and medicinal uses. And the Malawi Hemp Association formed to work with government departments in creating legislative and policy framework.

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