- Published on Thursday, 19 July 2012 00:16
- Written by JULIUS MASONGO
- Hits: 810
THE World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC) will always claim the moral high ground on tobacco related issues.
The argument, justifiably, is that tobacco consumption damages human health. And so it does - indisputably. The logical correlation between public health and the FCTC’s recent calls to phase out tobacco farming, however, is hard to grasp.
Tobacco is, after all, grown to meet on-going demand that is not disappearing any time soon. Thus it seems most illogical that a group of international health officials think it appropriate to foray into the agricultural heart of African economies based on the unsubstantiated view that in so doing, the health of global populations will somehow improve.
But that is the reality. Worse, the FCTC’s proposals to restrict and phase out tobacco growing fail – indisputably - to acknowledge the down-to-earth, everyday reality of the very farmers it seeks to regulate.
At the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) Africa Region meeting in Lusaka, Zambia,
in May, farmers and their representatives from Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe discussed at length the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC)
and its plan to prohibit the growing of tobacco.
This proposal is contained in FCTC Article 17 and calls for the “provision of support for economically viable alternative activities”—that is economic support to farmers for cultivating crops other than tobacco.
As the elected President of the ITGA Africa Region Francois van der Merwe said to delegates in Lusaka, the ITGA does “not have any issue with governments deciding to promote, as appropriate, economically sustainable alternatives to tobacco growing, if tobacco farmers in their countries are seriously affected as a consequence of local tobacco control programmes”.
However, the premise behind Article 17 called for an assessment of “economicallysustainable alternative livelihoods to tobacco cultivation”. These, of course, should be evidence-based, should look at all the potential impacts on all involved and should use an agreed methodology.
In addition, these assessments should be done “in cooperation… and with competent international and regional intergovernmental organisations” — but to date all of this has been woefully neglected.
Yet despite this lack of research and failure of cooperation, the FCTC working group — made up of 27 people — will meet in a few months time at the Conference of Parties 5 (COP5) in Seoul, South Korea, and vote n the future livelihoods of 30-million farmers worldwide.
For many of us farming in the so-called “developing nations” this arbitrary action on behalf of officials within the FCTC — most of who are based in the so-called “developed world” — comes as no surprise. We have learnt not to rely on the promises of others. And for good reason.
According to the Financial Times, the G8 countries, meeting for its annual summit in Hokkaido next week, are reluctant to reaffirm their commitment to cash for development and intend to dilute their commitment to development aid.
The rich countries club will apparently only commit in broad terms to the pledges on aid made at the 2005 summit in Gleneagles and will make no mention of the previously agreed 2010 deadline to increase aid to Africa by $25-billion annually.
Those of us who follow these matters recall well the G8 meeting in L’Aquila, Italy, in 2009 when the group promised to provide $22-billion for agricultural development in poor countries over three years. To date only 44% of that promised money has been disbursed. Added to that, the G8 is now talking about providing $1.2-billion over the next three years.
That’s a good distance from the $7.3-billion annually that humanitarian agencies are calling for. So where will the money come from to finance the research, development and production of alternative crops?
If the countries driving the call for the prohibition of tobacco are not meeting existing commitments, how can we believe they will keep their new promises? And given the economic crisis facing the European Union and the USA, we would be foolish to believe they could fulfill such commitments.
anzania’s 93,850 tobacco farmers produced a little less than 90,000 tonnes of tobacco this year and are forecasted to produce more than 120,000 next year. We are the third largest producer in Africa and it annually earns the country more than US$230-million in export proceeds and more than 100bn/- in taxes.
What will we replace this with? As the Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Co-operatives Adam Malima, told the House, tobacco is an important crop, as are coffee, cotton and cashews. But, not one alternative crop can compete with the financial security that tobacco provides for the growers, their dependents and the country. In addition, these other crops received government subsidies.
This support should be extended to tobacco farmers as well, to encourage them to boost productivity, not curtailed as required by the FCTC. The ITGA believes that while the demand for tobacco exists – and it does - farmers should have the right to choose whether they grow tobacco or not.
It does not believe that governments should try to drive farmers out of tobacco growing, as this will result in adverse social, economic and other impacts for those currently established within the framework of the tobacco value chain. Our farmers need to rely on their known skills and not the empty promises of others.