Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Tobacco, health and the economy: Unravelling the paradox

Tobacco, health and the economy: Unravelling the paradox

via Tobacco, health and the economy: Unravelling the paradox – NewsDay Zimbabwe July 19, 2014 by Byron Mutingwende

On the one hand, health experts contend that smoking tobacco is responsible for the annual death of over six million people globally.
On the other, third world agro-based countries particularly from Africa depend on this cash crop to drive their economies.

Thus, there is a tug-of-war of some sorts  on whether or not to increase the crop for economic benefits or totally ban it to preserve good health.

Recently, representatives of the African tobacco growers met in Harare for the 20th regional meeting of the International Tobacco Growers’ Association (ITGA) to discuss main issues affecting their livelihoods.

Topical among the discussions was the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)’s envisaged proposal to discuss the ban of tobacco at the next Conference of the Parties (Cop6).

Speaking on the sidelines of the Harare meeting, ITGA chief executive Antonio Abrunhosa expressed the association’s fear that WHO might take drastic measures that may lead to the ban of tobacco since only Health ministers represented countries at FCTC meetings.

“Health ministers who lead delegations of national committees are likely to attend the COP6 meeting in Mexico in October are not experts in as far as other economic benefits that may arise from tobacco growing and trading are concerned. If these people propose a ban on tobacco — most probably a decision to be taken by a few rich countries from America and Europe — the decision will adversely impact developing countries whose economies are driven by this cash crop,” Abrunhosa said.

As a result, ITGA urged its members from African tobacco growers to appeal to governments around the world, and particularly those from tobacco-growing countries, to grant tobacco growers the right of consultation in the development and implementation of policies that directly impact on them.

“Tobacco has many other social and economic benefits and dimensions that go beyond the health issues that WHO is concerned with. Thus there is need to involve other stakeholders like legal and financial experts — be they ministers, from different governments and not limit the discussions concerning tobacco to health ministers only.

“The exclusion of stakeholders in the tobacco industry from discussions that concern them is worrisome. We don’t know what they are going to propose. We are worried because we have not been involved,” Francois van der Merwe, ITGA President told NewsDay.

Zimbabwe Tobacco Association chief executive officer Rodney Ambrose said it was important to ensure that policy recommendations on tobacco to be adopted at the next Conference of the Parties (COP6) of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) are practical and do not penalise growers for whom tobacco crops are a route out of poverty and a way of life.

Lovegot Tendengu, director for Farmers’ Development Trust, said it was important to recognise the positive economic contribution that tobacco growing makes to Africa.

“As a resilient, high-value cash crop well-suited to smallholder farming, tobacco has changed the lives of many African farmers for the better. In the past our farmers used to produce about 49 million kg of tobacco per year. This year over 100 000 farmers have produced above 200 million kg of the crop raking in over $600 million in earnings,” Tendengu said.

Tobacco farmers urged to adhere to good agricultural practices

Zimbabwe’s controversial fast-track land reform programme saw many previously landless black peasant farmers embarking on tobacco farming on their government allocated pieces of land.

Of concern is the fact that many of the smallholder farmers who are delving into tobacco farming lack requisite knowledge on environmental conservation and climate change adaptation strategies.

Tobacco growers from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Kenya and South Africa together with representatives of the International Tobacco Growers’ Association (ITGA) expressed support for initiatives such as the Sustainable Afforestation Association (SAA).

SAA chief executive officer Maggie Okore addressed the regional members at a recent summit in Harare on the importance of adopting the green revolution through promoting sustainable fuel use in the tobacco industry.

SAA has focused on four high-volume tobacco-producing provinces and in the 2013/14 season 600ha were planted with 2 200 trees per ha.

“Our target is to establish up to 4 500 hectares of trees annually,” said Okore. “This will be expanded to the small scale sector as the programme progresses.”

Currently, SAA is working with land owners who farm a minimum of 100ha. It meets all the establishment and silviculture costs and shares the harvested product with land owner.

Okore said the SAA model meant sustainable, large-scale forestry was viable.

“The model is founded on inclusiveness — where communities, schools, churches, government bodies and private individuals participate actively in the processes — they take ownership of the programme.”

SAA’s target for the next ten years is to establish 36 000ha of forests.

The programme also has the support of many of the multinational cigarette manufacturers who have indicated that they would like to purchase from suppliers with tobacco cured using a “renewable source of energy”.

van der Merwe said that it recognised that deforestation was a problem.

“We have actively engaged with stakeholders on this matter — which we acknowledge is prevalent — not only in Zimbabwe but in all affected countries. We whole-heartedly support initiatives such as we see with SAA and others in finding sustainable solutions to this problem.”

According to a research paper by Consultancy Africa Intelligence (CAI), the majority of smallholder tobacco farmers rely solely on firewood to cure their tobacco.

They argue that this is a result of the fat that coal and electricity are beyond the reach of smallholder farmers.

“Thus the farmers are left with no option other than indigenous forests. In 2011, an estimated 46 000 hectares of forest had been cleared, and about 1,38 million cubic metres of firewood burnt to cure part of a 127 million kg tobacco output. The newly-resettled farmers use mainly firewood to cure their tobacco instead of the coal burners used previously, and so efficiencies that had been achieved then were lost,” part of the report reads.

CAI statistics also showed that tobacco farmers cumulatively chop about 5,3 million trees each year to support their production in Zimbabwe.

Edward Tome, head of Zimbabwe National Farmers’ Union, argued that the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) was taking stern action against deforestation and took punitive action even against farmers who cut down trees to cure tobacco.

As a deterrent, offenders could be fined up to $300 per tree, he said.

According to CAI, The Government of Zimbabwe implemented a draft statutory instrument that requires tobacco farmers to have a woodlot from which they would draw firewood to use for curing their crop.

As a mitigation against deforestation, Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) supplies registered growers
with Eucalyptus seeds which are fast growing and renewable.
David Guy Mutasa, director for Tobacco Association of Zimbabwe, urged tobacco farmers to engage in a constructive
dialogue on practical recommendations to deal with issues such as exploiting child labour and sustainability across the agricultural sector.

He urged farmers not to employ minors on their farms and abide by the provisions of the Labour Act so as to bring normalcy to the sector.


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