Farmer's Voice

Tobacco farmers fume at WHO proposal (Sunday Times - South Africa)

The WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) was adopted by the United Nations' public health arm in 2003, responding to what it termed the "globalisation of the tobacco epidemic", which it said kills nearly six million people each year. Of this number, more than 600000 are people exposed to second-hand smoke, it said.

A section of the framework provides for the support of economically viable alternatives for tobacco growers and workers in response to the reduction in demand and supply that the framework aims to enforce. A working group was formed to look into these alternatives, and this group unveiled the draft recommendations in February, which will be submitted to a conference of the parties to the framework in November.

The International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA), which represents tobacco farmers around the world, said the draft re-commendations call for the parties to cap tobacco production, restrict land available for tobacco farming, dismantle tobacco boards or commissions, and ban tobacco leaf auctions.

A closer inspection of the draft recommendations shows the working group recommended that signatories to the framework may consider not investing in tobacco production and/or the promotion of production; gradually reduce areas used for tobacco farming and incentives for production; and redefine the role of the institutions or boards formed for the promotion of tobacco products.

The recommendations did not call for the outright banning of tobacco auctions, but does mention stopping auctions of the Tendu leaf, grown in India.

Francois van der Merwe, chairman of the ITGA's Africa region, said the recommendations were shrouded "in diplomatic jargon" and the suggestions would be implemented into official regulations denying balanced options to tobacco growers.

"The phraseology does not allow for alternatives, nor does it make allowance for farmers to maintain their right to farm tobacco," he said.

"Perhaps, were the FCTC to say, 'parties may consider, in cooperation with relevant national, regional and international organisations, the feasibility and practicability of introducing alternative crops and/or the promotion of such crops' this would be more in keeping with the original aim of the FCTC, which was to find practical and economically sound alternative crops to farm.

"As it stands, it is an endorsement to prevent farmers from pursuing their livelihood."

If the SA government implemented these recommendations, some of the 177 farmers and 8000 to 10000 farm workers in the local tobacco industry would lose their livelihoods from growing tobacco, according to statistics on the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa's website.

The SA Revenue Service would lose some of the taxes it collects from excise duties, which it said reached R10.8-billion in the 2011/12 financial year.

Van der Merwe said the WHO had never attempted to engage with the industry. "The ITGA has in the past applied for observer status of the FCTC, which has been rejected."

The WHO would not respond to questions.

"The mere suggestion that an outside organisation should even think it morally right to dictate what a farmer's land can and cannot be used for in the pursuit of his or her livelihood is disturbing, to say the least," said Van der Merwe.

"These farmers are growing a legal cash crop into which they may have put many years - if not generations - of hard toil to provide support for themselves.''

in Sunday Times  - South Africa  9 June 2012