In just under five days, border patrol police in Mchinji have intercepted six trucks and over 160 tobacco bales from Malawi just before smugglers crossed into Zambia.
Border Patrol Police Department second-in-command Superintendent Numeri Amos suspects that a lot more tobacco from Malawi is being smuggled out by foreign business persons and Malawians eyeing straight-cash markets in neighbouring countries.
Superintendent Amos said a total of 18 people have since been arrested and would be handed to Mchinji Police station soon for prosecution to commence.
âWe are surprised because it was not until last week that we begun to notice this trend. It had been quiet all along. In total, we have intercepted 166 bales of tobacco. Now we have information that a lot more tobacco is being smuggled out on the Northern part of the Mchinji-Zambia stretch. But we are working on that too,â said Superintendent Amos.
He said all the tobacco was impounded just before the vehicles reached the border. The six vehicles and the 18 suspects are still in custody at Namizana Border Police.
One of the suspects is a Zambian national, Isaac Sakala aged 35 who comes from Zozwe Village in Traditional Authority Pembamoyoâs area in Vubwiu district.
According to Superintendent Amos, the suspects will answer charges of attempting or aiding export of Malawi tobacco without permits, and for the Zambian national; an additional charge of illegal entry will appear because he was also allegedly in Malawi without papers.
âFor sure, the problem is now growing here. We want to deal with it and we shall resources permitting,â he said.
Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) Chief Executive Officer Bruce Munthali confessed that the problem is serious especially between Malawi and Zambia such that about 30 per cent of tobacco leaf produced in Malawi end up in the markets across the borders.
âOur borders are very porous. We donât have physical barriers so much that we lose about 30 percent of our crop to illegal cross border trade every year. This means that we are exporting jobs as well as foreign currency that way,â said Munthali.
He attributed the problem to amongst other things farmers wanting to fetch more from their tobacco because of better prices being offered across the borders and farmers running away from paying back loans through deductions from their earnings.
He was, however, optimistic that the intensified police border patrols and the existing understanding between TCC and the Tobacco Board of Zambia would help curb the problem.
Munthali said while Malawi was complaining about the losses in the smuggled tobacco, Zambia has problems dealing with a leaf that was not fully supervised. â By Jacob Nankhonya