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Malawi eyes growing cannabis

05 May 2022. Malawi looks to cannabis to make profits amid declining tobacco demand, reports Africanews.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world but a major tobacco producer, ranking first in the world for burley and seventh for overall production, according to the report. No other economy is more dependent on the leaf. Government statistics say over 70 per cent of the country’s export earnings come from tobacco. However, earnings from tobacco - dubbed 'Malawi's Green Gold' - have declined over the past decade due to falling global demand.

This year has been particularly bad. Low volumes and low prices at the auction floors in Lilongwe forced the Tobacco Commission to cut trading to three days a week. Although tobacco revenues have declined sharply in recent years, the Malawian government still describes tobacco farming as a "strategic crop" and defends the country's continued investment in production. Last year, Malawi generated USD 173.5 million from tobacco, down 27 per cent from the previous year, the Tobacco Commission said.

During the first week of sales, prices fell more than 20 per cent compared to last year, according to local media. The price drop has seen some farmers try out new crops, including the recently legalised cannabis. Malawi legalised cannabis cultivation for medicinal and industrial use in February 2020.

It's about time Malawi diversified its economy, said Betchani Tchereni, economics professor at the Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences. “We just have to restart the economy. If it's soya, then let's do soya. If it's cannabis, then let's concentrate on cannabis," he said.

For some aspiring farmers, however, cultivation licences could be prohibitively expensive. Farmers working in groups of about 30 people have to spend an average of USD 10,000 per collective on cultivation licences alone. Easing the process of obtaining cannabis licences would give farmers an immediate boost.