Tobacco farmers rally against `extinction’, 10/05/10

Nine tobacco producing regencies in Central Java are lobbying the government to influence proposed anti-smoking regulations, according to Temanggung Regent Hasyim Afandi.

“It’s not a political move. We just want to protect tobacco farmers. I’ve talked to Magelang and Wonosobo Regents. They agreed. The others will follow,” Hasyim said after joining a mass prayer attended by about 10,000 tobacco farmers at Temanggung Square on Saturday.

The nine regencies include Temanggung, Wonosobo, Magelang, Kendal, Demak, Grobogan, Blora, Boyolali and Klaten. He said the regulation on tobacco had to take into account the interests of tobacco farmers, cigarette companies, traders and workers.

Concern was raised over the future of the tobacco industry and tobacco farmers in particular after an edict was issued recently by Muhammadiyah that rules smoking as “haram” (forbidden according to Islam).

Saturday’s gathering called for the government to ensure the regulation took into account the concerns of the industry.

If the tobacco business dies, he said, the farmers who have for years been dependant on tobacco farming will be severely affected. “So will cigarette factory workers.”

“Large cigarette factories will probably find it easy to switch their businesses and so will tobacco traders as they mostly only trade during harvest anyway,” Hasyim said.

There are an estimated 700,000 tobacco farmers in the country and hundreds of thousands of workers employed by cigarette companies.

Kudus, in Central Java, and three East Java towns – Kediri, Surabaya and Malang – are known as the hub of the country’s tobacco industry, and are home to large and medium cigarette producers.

East Java is the biggest tobacco producer followed by Central Java and West Nusa Tenggara.

Chairman of the event’s organizing committee Mistahal Nasokha said the issuance of the edict on the tobacco industry was a psychological blow to the farmers, who had rallied against the edict.

“The mass prayer hopefully will motivate the farmers and tobacco businesspeople to maintain their existence,” he said.

Malik Madani of the Nahdlatul Ulama’s national executive board said in a written comment that the edict on smoking needed to be understood for what it was. He said that the majority of clerics considered smoking makruh (objectionable but not forbidden) or mubah (allowed but not meritorious).

“The edict is not legally binding except for those who believe it is,” he said.

Nurtantio Wisnu Brata, chairman of the Indonesian Tobacco Farmers Association, said he expected the government to help ensure the eventual regulations were balanced.

“They should know tobacco farmers are also citizens who have rights to live. So, don’t issue regulations that would kill us,” he said.

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