Our true highlight in Lilongwe was a visit to the Tobacco Auction, about 15 kilometers outside of the city center on the road to the airport. No sign points to this place, so we had to ask for directions three times and ended up giving a ride to a street vendor to show us the way.
Friendly and competent Eston took us to the trading floor where 5.406 barrows, each 100kg, of tobacco were sold that particular day. And this was the slow end of the season. It was fascinating to see buyers, sellers, leaf qualifiers and note-takers walk single file on each side of a row of barrows, deciding within a split of a second whether to buy or not to buy the particular one.
The main player in such an auction is the person rattling of the price. The buyers then make signs with their fingers to signal their decisions. The speed of this entire process was mind-boggling. It takes three years of training to become a seller. “You have to know your tobacco”, summed up Eston, our guide.
Tobacco is big business in Malawi and its economy depends heavily on that industry.