Malawi tobacco earnings double to $361 mln

LILONGWE (Reuters) - Malawi has earned $361 million from tobacco sales this year, more than double its revenues in 2012, helping ease the southern African nation's normally tight foreign exchange situation less than a year before an election.

Tobacco accounts for more than 70 percent of Malawi's exports and 15 percent of GDP but the crop made just $177 million last year amid recurring sales suspensions by Western buyers after protests by growers demanding better prices.

"Higher and better prices this year have encouraged higher tobacco output, which also went up from 79.8 million kgs to 168 million kgs," an industry statement said.

The strong tobacco receipts are likely to go down well with President Joyce Banda, who faces an election in May. Banda came to power in April 2012 after former President Bingu wa Mutharika died of a heart attack.

As well as helping stabilise the kwacha, which fell as low as 400 to the dollar in April, the strong sales are likely to boost the earnings of the 2 million of Malawi's 14 million people who rely on tobacco and related industries for their livelihood.

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