Moves led by WHO for a global convention to cut smoking will increase poverty and strangle the economy, Malawian farm leaders were quoted as saying on Wednesday. They said that about 80 percent of the country's 10 million people lived in the rural areas and were dependent on tobacco production.
"Malawi receives more than 70 percent of its hard currency earnings from tobacco. Blocking access to international markets as advocated by the anti-tobacco lobby will kill thousands of people whose lives depend on the crop," said Gilbert Thyangathyanga, a Tobacco Association of Malawi (TAMA) official and chief executive for Africa at the International Tobacco Growers' Association. "Even slightly better-endowed countries such as Zimbabwe now expect 35-40 percent of their hard currency earnings from tobacco and I do not see how anyone will deny them this right," he said. According to government statistics tobacco employs an estimated 1.6 million people.
Thyangathyanga said the UN, European Union and Price waterhouse Coopers researchers had investigated the possibility of diversifying Malawi's economy to sugar, tea and coffee, but none had the potential to replace tobacco in the next 10 years. "For the foreseeable future, and in spite of whatever campaigns there are, Malawi will continue producing tobacco and it will remain our chief commodity export," he said. "Malawi must increase its production for the overall development of its economy." WHO is leading a campaign for a Framework Convention on Tobacco Control by 2003 to deal with health problems linked to smoking.
Meanwhile, in its latest update on Wednesday the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) said that it was forecasting real gross domestic product (GDP) growth for Malawi of 3.2 percent this year. It said that results from the tobacco auctions held so far suggested that prices were likely to be "slightly higher" than in 2000. "We expect higher tobacco production and prices to lift real GDP growth to 4.2 percent in 2002. The performance of the tobacco sector will continue to be the main determinant of economic growth in the forecast period," the unit noted.