ATCA calls on African governments to collaborate in helping tobacco farmers shift to food crops

ATCA calls on African governments to collaborate in helping tobacco farmers shift to food crops

AS THE world commemorates the World No Tobacco Day which is annually observed on May 31, the African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA) is calling on African governments to collaborate with the non-state actors in finding alternatives for tobacco farmers, reports *Francis Lungu* .

This year’s World No Tobacco Day is being held around the theme “We need food, not tobacco,” to emphasize on the importance of farmers shifting from tobacco cultivation to food crops.

Leading in the collaboration with the civil society and international organisations to promote better alternatives for tobacco farmers is the Kenyan government, which ATCA says should be emulated by the rest of the continent.

“Let us feed Africa, not the tobacco industry,” ATCA indicated in a statement issued by its communications officer, Caleb Ayong.

ATCA says this year’s World No Tobacco Day focuses on encouraging governments to end subsidies on tobacco growing and use the savings for crop substitution programmes that support farmers to switch and improve food security and nutrition.

The theme is developed inline with
Article 17 of the World Health Organization(WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
(FCTC) which requires that Parties collaborate with each other and with competent international
and regional intergovernmental organizations to promote, as appropriate, economically viable
alternatives for tobacco workers, growers,and individual sellers.

The theme also weighs in on
Article 18 of the Convention which calls on Parties to have due regard to the protection of the environment and the health of persons involved in tobacco cultivation.

According to ATCA, the WHO notes that tobacco farming has been on the rise in Africa since 2005 and is concerned
that tobacco companies are gaining an increasing foothold in Africa.

“This is concerning given the
knowledge we now have of how disastrous tobacco farming is to farmers, the economy,and the
environment,” the ATCA statement notes.

ATCA further observes that in a slick move, tobacco companies in Africa provide loans to tobacco farmers who usually cannot afford the resources such as inputs to cultivate the crop.

The tobacco industry also has control over leaf grading and pricing, so it has total control over the resources available for tobacco farmers, and the price
it offers for the leaves cultivated.

“And as it would be expected, studies reveal that most contract tobacco farmers incur losses, which perpetuates their indebtedness to the tobacco company that provides them with the loan. The debt compels them to grow tobacco in the following farming
season, in what is usually an unsuccessful attempt to repay the debt. The cycle is usually repeated,
making tobacco growing a debt trap, and leading to a vicious cycle of poverty,” the statement notes.

ATCA says this year’s World No Tobacco Day provides the continent with an opportunity to have a discussion on
workable solutions to the problem.

In Kenya and Zambia, where the WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the World Food Programme (WFP) are assisting the
Tobacco-Free Farms initiative, support is being provided to more than 5,000 farmers to grow sustainable food crops instead of tobacco.

The programme launched in Kenya’s Migori County in 2021, has since expanded to Meru, Busia, and Bungoma Counties in Kenya and the Eastern Province in Zambia.

Over the last three growing seasons, it has successfully supported over 2,000 farmers in Migori County to switch from tobacco to high-iron beans.

According to the WHO, so far, growers have sold 135 tons of beans to the WFP, delivering them significantly more income than they earned from tobacco farming.

Nutrition experts say growing beans has the added advantage that they are full of iron which helps to counter numerous health and development problems among children and pregnant women as opposed to tobacco that has no nutrition value to a human body.

The project has seen farmers’ health improve, increased school attendance from children previously working on tobacco farms, and led to better
crops for the environment than tobacco.

This project is evidence that global, regional, and national collaboration can effectively contribute to promoting economically viable alternative livelihoods for tobacco farmers as prescribed in Article 17 of the WHO FCTC.

“The good news is that it was piloted and has recorded huge success in Africa which, unfortunately, is currently facing a dire food security problem.
African governments must learn from this example and follow it.
We cannot continue to engage in harmful tobacco farming that only contributes to enriching the
tobacco industry at the detriment of Africa’s economic stability, public health, and the environment. Let us feed Africa, not the tobacco industry,” ATCA emphasize through its communications officer Mr Ayong.

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