Tobacco Tales

Fumu Nyirenda.  Smallholder Farmer

May 2021

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Fumu Nyirenda


Fumu is a farmer and secondary school teacher; teaching history and social development.

He grows; tobacco, cotton, sunflowers, beans and maize. His farm is over 12 hectares in size of which 7 hectares are dedicated to growing tobacco. He started growing tobacco about 11 years ago.

Based in Mpherembe, Malawi. Fumu is in his early 40’s and started small-scale farming in 1997 while at primary school. He has been operating on a more intensive basis for about 10 years.

Farming is deeply embedded in the way people do things from where he is from. His father was a farmer and grew maize, millet and reared local livestock.

He learned a lot from his father, from appropriate use of fertilizer, plant spacing and storage to a good work ethic. His Father’s imprint has been invaluable in giving him a solid foundation.


AGN: You trained to become a teacher, why did you develop a commercial farm?

FM: I did so in order to ensure I had an alternative means of earning a living and to supplement my monthly salary from teaching.

AGN: What were the hardest things you encountered when you transitioned from subsistence to commercial farming?

FM: Adequate access to capital was and is still a problem.  The same is the case in terms of a lack of knowledge about suitable types of technology and world markets.  Due to a lack of resources I rely on manual labour and engage up to 14 people on a contract basis to help me through the season.  More resources would enable me utilize a tractor which would help me boost productivity.

I don’t have an irrigation system so I have to rely on good weather.  An irrigation system would allow me to plant during the drier periods of the year effectively enabling me to plant twice a year instead of once as is currently the case.

AGN: You receive government assistance in terms of training/technical assistance. What gaps do you perceive in the support you receive and what changes would you suggest as improvements?

FM: I would like the government to offer us better prices, enable farmers have easier access to more favourable loans and provide tractors for hire.


AGN: Many countries have restricted where people can smoke which has resulted in a decrease in people smoking and a corresponding decrease in tobacco usage. Have you thought of switching to a different crop and if so what would it be and would you be able to sell directly to world markets?

FM: I am aware of this issue and grow different crops on a smaller scale compared to tobacco for now as a safeguard. I can always switch. If I had to do so I would grow beans as production costs are low and growing them is not constrained by fertilizer usage.

AGN: You mentioned extension workers provide training and you also attend training sessions provided by stakeholders. Is there a major gap in the way things are done that if plugged, would better capacitate farmers?

FM: I would like training sessions to be more regular. At present it can take over a year before any training is provided.


AGN: Is agricultural insurance something you utilize or would consider?

FM: It is no longer an option here. Some time ago a number of farmers were obtaining it until it was withdrawn because some farmers were cheating insurance companies by deliberately burning their curing houses in order to claim compensation.

AGN: What access to finance do you currently utilize?

FM: I primarily rely on my own funds although I do obtain loans for fertilizer from tobacco companies.

AGN: To what extent do you produce and review structured plans for your operations and future growth?

FM: I accept that plans are useful for running a business and can help with a number of things e.g. tracking profit and loss, scheduling and undertaking of activities in a timely manner etc. Having said that the people I know only prepare plans in order to obtain a loan. We don’t typically use them in our operations. Our capital is small and easy to manage without detailed plans.


AGN: What advice would you give to people wanting to start farming in Malawi now?

FM: I would advise they grow different types of crops. Diversification is key.

AGN: Why did you choose to grow tobacco?

FM: It was the most lucrative option when I started out.

AGN: What are some of the common diseases you have faced growing tobacco and how have you treated them?

FM: Some common diseases that affect tobacco plants here are: (i) Angular leaf spot, (ii) Root knot nematode and (iii) Bushy top virus.

I typically manage the first two conditions with chemicals.  Ensuring planting is not left too late can help to moderate the third condition.