By Prosper Makene
Tobacco growers are urging governments to open a line of formal dialogues in order to promote discussion with governments and international bodies about the challenges the sector is facing due to a decrease in demand for tobacco products in the absence of viable alternative crops.
Continued declines in the demand for tobacco products will lead some African countries to a drastic drop in employment and family income without a concerted effort to find alternatives for tobacco growers who, to this date, have not been guided toward viable solutions.
The plea was made at a meeting today organised by the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) in Dar er Salaam, Tanzania, bringing together the sector, political Representatives, and tobacco farmers from other Africa Tobacco Growing Countries, namely Malawi, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
At the opening of the Africa Regional Meeting, Dr Jackson Nkuba, Assistant Director in Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture pointed out: “Tobacco has been part of the worldwide agriculture for nearly 6 centuries” he went further saying that “in Tanzania, tobacco has been for years the most important traditional export crop” Dr Nkuba also knowledge the challenges linked to the crop and raise awareness about the importance of educating people and consumers about the risks deriving from tobacco.
Speaking about the WHO FCTC, Dr Nkuba stressed: “We as government can, and need to, encourage farmers to grow something else but we do know how difficult it is to create supply chains and add value crops in any given country, Tanzania included”
Concluding his speech Dr Nkuba reiterated that “tobacco production and use is still legitimate and we want to maintain this status quo for as long as we can…” “…we need the collaboration of all stakeholders in the value chain to ensure that tobacco production is environmentally sustainable”
Speaking at the opening of the Forum, ITGA’s President, Mr Daniel Green said: “I am very pleased to welcome ITGA members to Tanzania for this important regional gathering of tobacco farmer associations. I want to highlight the enormous contribution of tobacco to these countries’ economies considering the difficult time some of them are going through, tobacco has been, for decades, one of the main promoters of employment in these countries, and also, one of the main income generators.
We do not underestimate policies that aim to safeguard public health; the only thing we have been asking for many years now, is to be part of the process that could lead tobacco growers towards a sustainable future without underestimating their precarious conditions.
In Tanzania, tobacco employs 1.45 million people in the supply chain and tobacco leaf and related products represent 5% of Tanzania’s export revenue (Africa tobacco info graphics).
In countries with high dependency on tobacco, as it is the case of most African tobacco growing countries, a proper plan needs to be put on the table and discussed among all the relevant stakeholders. Without this commitment, very little can be done to achieve benefits that seek to promote a sustainable future for tobacco growers and the regions as a whole.”
Growers also insist on the need of participation of tobacco growers’ representatives into the process being carried by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
The FCTC is holding a regional meeting in Dar er Salaam coinciding with the ITGA meeting, to discuss measures related with Articles 17&18, which are directly linked to tobacco growers and tobacco production as it discusses issues concerning alternatives to tobacco growing and the social and environmental impact of tobacco growing.
Once again, ITGA has asked for the participation of its local association in Tanzania, the Flue and Dark Tobacco Unions (FDTU), in this meeting but, neglecting its commitment as stated on its final Declaration of the the last Conference of the Parties (COP7) in Delhi, where the Head of the Secretariat, Mrs Vera Luiza Costa e Silva said that “the intention was to help growers by reaching out to them” this petition was ignored and growers and their representatives were again left out of discussions concerning their future.
António Abrunhosa, ITGA CEO also stated: “We have come to a point where it is clear that the FCTC Secretariat has exercised a veto to tobacco growers by ignoring their pleas. Unlike other UN agencies that engage in discussions with relevant stakeholders to discuss the best approach to overeach their goals, the FCTC underestimates one very important stakeholder in their discussions and the one most affected by their decisions; the tobacco growing communities”