13 March 2013: Bangkok- In the global fight to end tobacco addiction and deaths, a regional anti-tobacco alliance has stressed that tobacco farmers themselves are victims that need protection, contrary to tobacco company claims of prosperity and progress from tobacco cultivation.
The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) said tobacco farming over the decades has overall kept tobacco farmers trapped in poverty and contributed little to economies by way of meaningful job creation. “Tobacco farming is an insignificant contributor to total employment and agriculture among ASEAN countries,” SEATCA said in a statement. ” The number of farmers employed in tobacco farming is small or only 0.42% of the overall national employment.”
SEATCA noted that among the ASEAN countries, tobacco hectarage accounts for very little of total agricultural land, averaging less than 0.2 percent, such that encouraging tobacco farmers to shift should have minimal impact on the overall agriculture of the countries. For example, tobacco hectarage relative to total agricultural lands are: 0.17 percent for Malaysia, 0.19 percent for Philippines, 0.2 percent for Thailand, and 0.19 percent for Vietnam. (The numbers are according to the Tobacco Atlas). Studies show that total revenues generated from tobacco are also insignificant, contributing 0.82%, 0.42%, and 0.35% to Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand respectively.
However the tobacco industry and its front groups inflate the actual figures, SEATCA said, warning against the industry’s misleading campaigns. “One such front organization is the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) which has been rousing farmers in Southeast Asia and providing them with false information.
“The ITGA, which is sponsored in large part by British-American Tobacco, Philip Morris International and Imperial Tobacco International, continues its misinformation campaign by mobilising tobacco farmers groups in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand to oppose tobacco control measures. In Thailand, tobacco farmers have been mobilized to oppose the new (draft) tobacco control law and tobacco taxation claiming that this policy will hurt tobacco farmers.
Prof.Prakit Vatheesatokit, Secretary General of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Thailand revealed that for the past two decades, Thailand has had one of the more successful tobacco control programs in the region, and as a result, male smoking prevalence has steadily declined from 60 percent in 1991 to about 42 percent in 2011. Despite this, cigarette sales have not been affected. The decrease in tobacco farming is not because of tobacco control but due to a decrease in market shares of the Thai Tobacco Monopoly’s products as imported products grab more of the domestic market.
In this light, SEATCA Senior policy advisor Mary Assunta advised that countries should actively implement the global treaty, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which specifically addresses this issue, whereby 176 Parties agree to promote economically viable alternatives for tobacco workers and growers. “There are viable alternative crops and products,” she said “tobacco farmers in various countries in the ASEAN region have implemented crop diversification efforts.” She cited as examples:
- Malaysian tobacco growers are shifting to alternate crops, thanks to a programme coordinated by the government since 2005. The Malaysian Deputy Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities said in March last year that Malaysian tobacco farmers are transitioning to kenaf (hibiscus cannabinus), and that his government is providing incentives to farmers (US$751.00 per hectare [RM2,300.00], along with bonus and other assistance) to grow the crop.
- In Cambodia, a 2009 study on tobacco farming found that 40-percent of farmers have switched from tobacco to other crops over the last ten years. The farmers noted lower profits from tobacco growing. Tobacco farming entails more capital and is subject to unstable global prices.
In response to the fear mongering and panic the tobacco industry and its allies have tried to create, SEATCA has developed and put together the website WWW.SAVEOURFARMER.ORG to present real facts and figures on the tobacco farming issue and relay to the farmers that there is no cause for panic; they can make the right choices. The site offers data, information, and experiences of other countries in alternative crops and farming. (ENDS).