The Integrated Tobacco Production System (IPS) model: opportunities, challenges and future prospects for Malawi
For almost two decades, ARET has been the major player in providing research and extension services aimed at improving tobacco productivity in Malawi. However, there has been a paradigm shift following introduction of the Integrated Production System (IPS). IPS is a production model that involves establishment of contractual obligations between growers and merchants for the production and marketing of tobacco in a sustainable manner. The model was introduced in the 2012/13 season as part of a tobacco industry wide production approach to improve tobacco yields and quality, and means to control supply in relation to global requirements. Under the current arrangement, 80% of the total leaf produced is sold through the contract system while 20% still goes through auction.
Inasmuch as strides have been made since its inception, there have been benefits as well as challenges. Some notable benefits include: improved access to input loans resulting in the doubling of average tobacco yields (from 800 kg/ha to 1700 kg/ha), considerable improvement in leaf quality, improved access to production information due to multiplicity of players offering extension services, farmer compliance to global tobacco marketing requirements such as seed integrity and traceability, provision of a platform for enhanced research collaboration, provision of a framework for delivery of corporate social responsibility, among others. Among the challenges that have affected farmers negatively include: unclear contractual agreements, conflicting messages by different extension providers in the industry, late delivery and sometimes over charged inputs, introduction of unverified technologies and unclear forward pricing. In view of the foregoing, there is need for closer collaboration by all players involved to ensure that farmers are not put at a disadvantage. ARET needs to take a leading role in ensuring adherence to best practices and set standards. The IPS, if properly coordinated, would benefit growers and the nation at large.