A sub-committee of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) has come up with a proposal that will compel countries around the world to enforce controls on tobacco production.
If adopted, the proposals could spell doom for Malawi's tobacco industry as the country's failure to follow the rules could make it difficult for its tobacco to be sold on the international market.
Malawi is not a member of the FCTC but most of the countries to which the country sells its tobacco are members hence, would be reluctant to buy the country's tobacco if FCTC rules are not followed in its production.
During its meeting held in Geneva last week, the sub-committee has, among other things proposed that banning of minimum support prices and leaf auctions, restrict production by regulating the seasons in which tobacco can be grown, reduce the area allocated for tobacco farming, as well as ban financial or technical support for tobacco farmers.
WHO also wants all bodies connecting governments with growers to be dismantled.
The proposals would be tabled at an FCTC Conference of Parties to take place in South Korea from November 11 to 17, 2012.
The Malawi government has since declared that it will take a position against the matter.
"We are very much interested in this matter and our technical officials are already busy discussing it. We will soon come up with a position on the matter," said Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Jeffrey Luhanga yesterday.
On its part, the Tobacco Association of Malawi (Tama) says it rally with the Malawi government and other tobacco growing countries around the world in fighting against the proposal.
Tama Chief Executive Officer Graham Kunimba said the proposals would have disastrous consequences if they went through.
"By suggesting governments phase out tobacco growing, these ideological recommendations put the jobs of more than 30 million farmers at risk without providing them with any economically viable alternative crops," he said.
He observed that WHO has consistently refused to listen to tobacco growers in drafting the proposals.
"By doing so, they act like a blind man driving a steamroller without paying any attention to the consequences of their folly," said Kunimba, whose association has a membership of 300,000 farmers in the country.
He said the current proposal goes far beyond the FCTC's original mandate.
"They are designed to force tobacco growers out of business by creating artificial restrictions on tobacco supply while failing to address the growing demand for the crop," observed Kunimba.
"Now is the time for governments to act and oppose these draconian measures," Kunimba said.
He said to rally governments worldwide in opposition to the measures, Tama has joined the International Tobacco Growers' Association (ITGA) in launching a global petition available online and through growers' associations.
The petition calls on government leaders in Malawi to reject these 'irrational' and 'destructive' proposals in favour of a more realistic approach that will help tobacco farmers adapt if and when the demand for tobacco evolves.