Farmer's Voice

A Focus on Sustainability by ITGA President Daniel Green

The International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) was founded more than thirty years ago by representatives of tobacco-producing countries with very different cultures, political structures and tobacco regulatory environments. While these representatives recognized their many differences, they set about an effort to form an effective organization with the goal to give tobacco farmers worldwide a common voice, realizing that their common interests were greater than those things that set them apart. This successful effort resulted in the only world organization of tobacco farmers, representing approximately 30 million farmers worldwide.

When the ITGA was founded, the biggest concern facing farmers included taxation and smoking restrictions. Today, the issues have become much more complex with a multitude of regulatory authorities having oversight over tobacco at local, regional, national and international levels and with many more forces attacking the livelihoods of tobacco farmers.

However, if you ask a tobacco farmer anywhere in the world their primary concern, the answer is always the same; profitability. A tobacco farmer that cannot afford to adequately provide for his/her family has little concern about whatnew marketing restrictions are being imposed on cigarette manufacturers.

Lasting trends of declining demand for leaf tobacco has made the most recent supply and demand imbalance the most painful one for tobacco farmers. In the face of lower prices and rising costs of production, farmers are growing more frustrated to hear about the focus of many leaf purchasers on sustainability programs that seem to primarily involve recordkeeping requirements, environmental protection and issues related to hired labor. To the farmer, sustainability must include a meaningful discussion about profitability. Unfortunately, this frustration and uncertainty regarding future profitability is leading to a rapid decline in the number of tobacco farmers in many regions of the world, including the United States.

At its recent annual meeting, the ITGA member countries approved a strategy proposal to focus on issues that truly affect grower sustainability. Quite simply, this means supporting measures that ensure responsible farmers can provide a good life for their families from producing tobacco.
In the new year, ITGA will maintain its focus on initiatives that encourage stability of production and increased grower profitability, while continuing to publicize the economic importance of tobacco production and ensuring that the legitimate interests of tobacco farmers are understood by the industry and being considered by international and national policy-makers.

The tobacco industry should take great care to not become complacent with regards to the plight of tobacco farmers in periods of oversupply, but to maintain a strong emphasis on supporting successful family farms. Without tobacco farmers, there would be no tobacco industry.