African Tobacco Farmers Want Their Voices Heard
The International Tobacco Growers’ Association (ITGA) has banded with tobacco farmers in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Kenya and South Africa against governmental interventions to their growing and trading practices.
The ITGA recently held a three day discussion with representatives from the local African tobacco farmers in Harare, Zimbabwe, with the result being a call on all governments to include the farmers in decisions on policies that will affect their livelihood.
Francois van der Merwe, President of ITGA, expressed the African farmers’ alarm at the proposed agenda of the upcoming Conference of the Parties (COP6) of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
“The people driving these policies are completely out of touch with reality and fail to recognise the positive economic contribution that tobacco growing makes to Africa,” claims van der Merwe.
The policies to be discussed at the convention will place restrictions on tobacco that will adversely affect the farmers, whom claim that tobacco farming, as opposed to any other crop farming is their way out of poverty.
“This is a high-value cash crop very much suited to small-hold farming, and has changed the lives of many African farmers for the better,” stated van der Merwe.
The effect on the economy
Norman Chakanetsa, a government official in Zimbabwe and a tobacco farmer himself, is wholly against any strict anti-smoking policies, claiming that the economy will suffer if demand for tobacco declines.
“Tobacco is very important for the economy and we earn a lot of money from tobacco,” said Chakanetsa. “If it falls, we need something that takes that slack that would have been created by that fall. It will actually affect the revenue to the fiscus (treasury) and the livelihood of the people and the standard of living… We will have difficult economic times.”
According to the ITGA, 24 million Africans in 15 different countries depend on the tobacco industry in one way or another for their livelihood.
“Growers are naturally concerned about efforts in the context of the FCTC to change the way tobacco is treated in the international trading system,” said President of the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association, Gavin Foster. “If allowed, such changes would prevent tobacco-producing countries like Zimbabwe from legitimately defending and benefiting from those exports.”
Tobacco is by far the main cash crop in Zimbabwe, with the export value for this year estimated at over $600 million worth of tobacco. Zimbabwe’s main buyer currently is China.
“This is a high-value cash crop very much suited to small-hold farming, and has changed the lives of many African farmers for the better,” claims van der Merwe.
Two sides to the story
Van der Merwe explained that anti-tobacco policies are being discussed and passed by people who underestimate the impact of these laws on the farmers, as well as the countries as a whole.
By excluding the tobacco growers from the conferences discussing these policies, the FCTC is not allowing them to state their point of view, and engage with the officials. “We are asking governments – and representative bodies such as the United Nations – to engage with us in a constructive dialogue instead of shutting the door on our lives,” said van der Merwe.
Due to this lack of acknowledgement, the ITGA plans to make their voice heard at the upcoming International Conference on Tobacco Control, in Moscow this coming October.
“The anti-tobacco lobby is very vocal, very extreme and very out of touch lobby,” said van der Merwe. “They have one thing in mind and that is to damage the tobacco industry. The best thing for them is to start working with the tobacco industry so that they can understand the tobacco industry. By extreme measures we will damage the industry which makes huge contributions all around the world.”
- “Zimbabwe: African Tobacco growers want their voices heard”, Panapress, 2 July 2014. Available at: http://www.panapress.com/Zimbabwe–African-Tobacco-growers-want-their-voices-heard–3-918425-0-lang2-index.html
- Mercy Gakii, “Farmers read mischief in tobacco control convention”, The Star, 7 July 2014. Available at: http://www.the-star.co.ke/news/article-174810/farmers-read-mischief-tobacco-control-convention
- Sebastian Mhofu, “Africa Tobacco Growers Fight Anti-Smoking Initiative”, Voice of America, 4 July 2014. Available at: http://www.voanews.com/content/african-tobacco-growers-fight-anti-smoking-initiative/1950773.html