Trends in Tobacco Production and Prices in Malawi. Nicotine & Tobacco Research

October 4, 2021 - Author: , Lemekezani Chilora, Thomas S Jayne

Wineman, A., Chilora, L., & Jayne, T. S. (2021). Trends in Tobacco Production and Prices in Malawi. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 24(2), 227–232.


Malawi is one of the world’s most tobacco-reliant countries, with tobacco historically accounting for up to 70% of foreign exchange earnings1,2 and contributing to the livelihoods of a substantial share of the country’s rural population. Presently, the worldwide campaign to reduce tobacco use includes efforts to reduce tobacco supply, with Article 17 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control requiring signatories to promote economically viable alternatives to tobacco.3 Though Malawi is one of the few countries that has not ratified this Framework,4 Malawi is apparently considering doing so,5 and there are indications in its various agricultural policies that diversification has become a priority. For example, the 2016 National Agriculture Policy aims to shift farmers into nontraditional, high-value agricultural value chains and non-agricultural activities; the Malawian Growth and Development Strategy III focuses on establishing new markets for diverse agricultural commodities, including oilseeds, sugarcane, livestock, animal feed, and fisheries products; and the National Agricultural Investment Plan suggests sugarcane, cotton, coffee, tea, macadamia nuts, soybeans, oilseeds, and chilies as possible alternatives to tobacco.4

The imperative to diversify stems at least partly from an expectation that global efforts to reduce tobacco consumption through tobacco control policies or increased trade barriers are likely to imperil the livelihoods of tobacco growers in Malawi. Increasingly unstable tobacco markets have, in recent years, translated into fluctuating and declining incomes for tobacco farmers.6 Though world demand for tobacco has continued to increase, Malawian burley has a reputation as a flavorless ‘filler’, and recent policies to ban additives in Canada and flavorings in the U.S. seem to have reduced demand for the otherwise bland Malawian burley.7 This has prompted a growing recognition within the government that tobacco is not a viable or sustainable commodity.4 Nevertheless, alongside policies oriented towards diversification, the Government of Malawi continues to support tobacco production and marketing.4,8 Though the government has at least loosely identified a goal of shifting away from tobacco, alternative sources of income that are as profitable as tobacco for Malawian farmers—and as useful for Malawi as an export—have yet to be identified.



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