WHO Tobacco Proposal – Threatened farmers slam ‘outreagous recommendations’

FTW Online recently reported that representatives of hundreds of thousands of African tobacco farmers are gathering at the International Tobacco Growers Association Africa Regional Meeting this week to discuss what they see as outrageous recommendations being developed by international regulators that they believe would destroy their livelihoods.

Farmer leaders attending the meeting from Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe will focus on the recommendations provided by the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) working group on Articles 17 & 18. The FCTC originally recommended that governments of these countries should help tobacco farmers find viable economic alternative crops, assuming that tobacco demand will decline.

Very little research on alternative, economically viable crops has been undertaken and as the group recognizes, any future research will require lengthy time trials. “However, the FCTC has now put forward unreasonable and absurd measures to phase out tobacco production, without offering the vast African farming community any viable fall-back solutions,” the farmers claim.

Numerous countries, such as Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania now face the prospect of seeing millions of jobs lost and a huge decline in the export of tobacco. Tobacco cultivation is critical for the economy in these countries and one of the few agricultural activities to have remained buoyant during the recent worldwide economic crisis. The latest guidelines drafted by bureaucrats in Geneva threaten to undo that for no clear benefit.

“These guidelines are just plain wrong whichever way you look at them. Nobody has explained to me how banning some cigarette products and ignoring others will have any benefit for people’s health,” said Roger Quarles, President of the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA). “It will just be a disaster for those growers who grow leaf for traditional blended products.” The ITGA represents more than thirty million tobacco growers across Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America. “We call on governments all over the world to support growers by adopting a common sense approach and discarding these irrational and potentially economically devastating guidelines.”

The Case of Malawi

The association says switching from tobacco in Malawi to other crops is unrealistic as it would require huge investments, pointing out that tobacco is by far cheaper to produce and benefits more people than most of the next best alternatives. “For example, investment required for a farmer in Malawi to grow two hectares of flowers is equivalent to the investment required to grow 1 000 hectares of burley tobacco. The difference is that 1 000 hectares of burley tobacco provides a livelihood for 500 farmers. So, given that the average farmer in Malawi only has two hectares at his disposal, switching to flowers is simply unrealistic”.

ITGA says one crop that has been recognised as being more profitable than tobacco in Malawi and other tobacco-growing countries is paprika. But the association says world demand for paprika is only 120 000 tonnes. “A single country like Zimbabwe could cope with this demand but the result would be overproduction of paprika and the impact on exiting paprika growers would be catastrophic,” it says. The association also argues that a farmer that grows burley tobacco cannot switch to Virginia tobacco because Virginia tobacco has an industrial curing process requiring huge investment and needs a much greater area than burley “in order to be profitable.”

Tobacco is Malawi’s most important cash crop, accounting for nearly 60 percent of total export earnings and makes up 13 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). It is also the single largest employer, with more than two million people directly or indirectly relying on the crop. With such an influence, paralysing the industry could cripple the economy in a way that may take the country decades to recover. Sources: FTW Online, TIMSA, and Buisness Wire.

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