The 2020 tobacco marketing season has opened with a new auctioning system of buying tobacco to encourage competitive buying and accommodate social distancing in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.

The new system involves a single buyer at a time going through the tobacco bale lines and secretly offering a buying price for preferred bales and a ticket marker records the offer on a ticket sheet.

Once through, another buyer takes turn with a different ticket marker. This means unlike in the past, competing buyers will not be able to know the offering prices of other buyers. At the end, ticket sheets will be tallied and will be computer generated to establish the highest bid and successful buyer of a particular bale.

On the day, the overall highest price fetched around USSD1.20 while the No Grade tobacco, which is the lowest grade was bought at around a minimum of USSD 0.90.

The contract market fetched prices of up to USSD 2. 30 Minister of agriculture and food security, Francis Kasaila, said the opening day at Lilongwe Auction Floors was a success but he lamented the issue of poor tobacco grading by some farmers.“There is a lot that our farmers need to do, they need to spend a lot of time on grading because that has a huge impact on the pricing.

“We should all encourage farmers to spend more energy on grading tobacco,  and I hope our extension workers and other stakeholder will be there to help farmers in proper grading,” he told journalists

With the new auction system, farmers will also not be available on the floors while their tobacco is being sold. Similarly, they will not be able to immediately know how much their tobacco has been bought at until all ticket sheets have been tallied and the winning bidder identified.

The minister said farmers are represented by their associations and the Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) and he encouraged them to check whether their tobacco has been sold or not using the platforms available to them or through their association leaders.In his remarks, TCC Chief Executive Officer Kayisi Sadala said all due procedures will be followed in order to protect the farmers and has since said the market season will not be prolonged.

During the day, around 3000 bales of tobacco were laid on the market against a normal figure of around 10000. However, Sadala said they expect to add more tobacco onto the floors on market days.

Felix Thole, CEO for TAMA Farmers Trust said with regard to the prices, the first day of the market left a good impression especially on the contract market.The Mzuzu market is expected to open on May 4 while Limbe auction floors will open on April 27.

Estimates indicate there is a demand of 161 million kilograms of tobacco against the current available estimates of 155 million.

Source: MANA

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