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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 April, 2003, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Malawi defies anti-smoking lobby
President Bakili Muluzi
Muluzi defies smoking controls
Malawi will keep on supporting is tobacco industry, the mainstay of the economy, despite opposition from anti-smoking groups and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

President Bakili Muluzi, speaking at the start of the year's tobacco auctions, urged farmers to produce higher quality crops.

His stance comes ahead of the signing of the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) later this year.

The FCTC will be the world's first global agreement to control tobacco advertising and promotion, smuggling, taxation, treatment and product regulation.

The convention was reportedly instrumental in British American Tobacco ending almost two decades of sponsoring Malawian football earlier this month.

Industry support

Dr Muluzi said Malawi would continue to support the tobacco industry, the country's second largest employer after the government, until alternative cash crops were found.

"On behalf of the farmers, I appeal to buyers to pay appropriate prices to ensure that tobacco growers have good income," he said.

Tobacco accounts for about 75% of foreign currency earnings for the country which is in the second year of recession due to a freeze of donor aid.

Malawi and Zimbabwe are the world's two most tobacco dependent economies.

Main income earner

The government of the tiny southern African country this year pushed for the earlier opening of the auction floors to bring in foreign currency.

Tobacco accounts for over 60% of Malawi's total exports and contributes about 10% of the gross domestic product.

Estimates from the Commercial Bank of Malawi (CBM) in March put this year's crop at 145.6 million kilogrammes, a 5.4% increase on last year, which will earn K16.9 billion (123m; $191m) in sales in 2003.

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