Tears of Nyasaland : 5,700+ Malawians die of tobacco diseases annually but the state still oppose FCTC

By Chris Zumani Zimba

  1. Malawi, among few countries that have not ratified and still denounce the WHO FCTC

images, lungs destroyed by smokingIn 2017, George Chaponda, Minister of Agriculture then made a public vow that Malawi will never yield to outside pressure to stop growing tobacco or enforce comprehensive tobacco control laws. As tobacco is dubbed Malawi’s green gold, Honourable Chaponda argued that there is no cash crop that can replace tobacco and tobacco will remain Malawi’s number one. “We are not stopping growing tobacco anytime soon or later….tobacco is our green gold and will stay this way”1, Chaponda said. The Minister’s position was in line with the Malawian government policy of being one of the few countries that have repeatedly refused to ratify and commit to implement the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), a public health global treaty currently ratified by 180 member states.

While the FCTC is one of the most quickly ratified treaties in United Nations history, it is a supranational agreement that seeks “to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke” by enacting a set of universal standards stating the dangers of tobacco and limiting its use in all forms worldwide2. Currently, 181 countries have ratified it but Malawi is not one of them.

  1. The price Malawians are paying annually for ‘kissing’ the tobacco leaf for trade while rejecting WHO FCTC

In this tobacco-growing country formerly known as Nyasaland, many innocent citizens are ‘exchanging’ their health and lives for money or trade as tobacco farming and smoking is rapidly emerging as a serious health hazard killing thousands of Malawians every year.

According to the Tobacco Atlas Report of 2018 co-published by the American Cancer Society and Vital Strategies, a lobby organisation that promotes preventive health care, more than 5,700 Malawians die of diseases caused by tobacco smoking every year3.

While Vital Strategies president, Jose Castro called for government to provide “enough political will” in “ending the production of tobacco”, the American Cancer Society’s vice-president, Jeffrey Drope who co-edited the report writes that “every death from tobacco is preventable” adding that “any government has the capacity to reduce the economic and human suffering from tobacco”2.

As public health concerns because of tobacco-related diseases are increasing, the campaign is intensifying, but there is little it can achieve in Malawi as generating income and trade seem to be the top priority for now than preventing diseases and saving the lives of their dear citizens.

  1. The history and dependency on harmful tobacco in Malawi

From a policy point of view, Malawi has prioritized trade over health and human lives. About 80 % of the rural workforce are employed in the tobacco production with over 70,700 adults over 15 years of age using tobacco daily in Malawi, and so do more than 5,000 children aged between 10 and 14. According to statistics from the Malawi Tobacco Control Commission (TCC), tobacco contributes 11 % to the gross domestic product (GDP) and accounts for 60 % of foreign exchange earnings4.

It is a naked fact that, at global level, Malawi is well known for tobacco just like Zambia or Chile is known for copper, Libya, Saud Arabia, Venezuela or Iraq are known for oil.  According to TCC 2018 reports, an estimated 350,000 farmers grow tobacco in Malawi; of course the figure does not include individual household free or cheap labourers like thousands of women and children5. In the 2015/2016 growing season tobacco sales hit $ 276 million from 195 million kg. In 2016/2017, tobacco sales fetched $ 212 million from 106 million kg. In 2005, Malawi was the 12th largest producer of tobacco leaves and the 7th largest global supporter of tobacco leaves. As of 2010, Malawi was the world’s leading producer of burley leaf tobacco5.

Chris Zumani Zimba is a prolific Political Scientist, Policy Analyst, Author, Blogger, PhD Scholar, Researcher, Consultant, Public Health and Tobacco Control Advocate. He is the lead researcher with “Centre for Advocacy and Research on Tobacco Control in Zambia” (CARTOCOZA) under Chrizzima Democracy University (CDU) in Zambia where he is the CEO.  Besides analysing African politics weekly on Voice of the Cape Town, South Africa every Wednesday at 16:45hours CAT, he has also authored more than 10 political and academic books as well as published over 100 well researched articles on African politics and public health. Sometimes, he lectures Political Science-Part Time with University of Zambia (UNZA) and University of Lusaka (UNILUS). tobaccocontroladvocacyzed@gmail.com or chriszumanizimba@yahoo.com; +260 973 153 815


  1. MBC (2019:1), “Malawi launches global state of tobacco harm reduction”  accessed from https://www.mbc.mw/index.php/news/sports/item/7827-malawi-launches-global-state-of-tobacco-harm-reduction-report
  1. WHO (2019:1), “WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control”, accessed from https://www.who.int/fctc/cop/about/en/
  1. Mweninguwe .R, (2018:1) “Agriculture-Smoking kills”, accessed from https://www.dandc.eu/en/article/malawi-tobacco-growing-country-yet-smoking-health-hazard Retrieved 9th June, 2019
  1. Davies P, (2003:1), “Malawi: addicted to the leaf”, accessed from https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/12/1/91, retrieved on 16-08-2019
  1. Otanez, Marty, Hadii M. Mamudu, and Stanton A. Glantz. “Tobacco Companies’ Use of Developing Countries’ Economic Reliance on Tobacco to Lobby Against Global Tobacco Control: The Case of Malawi” American Journal of Public Health. 2009: 99(10), 1759–1771


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