International organizations and national governments must help tobacco farmers to ease the transition to alternative crops beyond tobacco.
Production by country: area in hectares, 2012
Production by country: area in hectares, 2012
Tobacco leaf is grown in at least 124 of the world’s countries. In 2012, nearly 7.5 million tonnes of tobacco leaf was grown on almost 4.3 million hectares of agricultural land, an area larger than Switzerland. China is the world’s leader in tobacco production, with 3.2 million tonnes of tobacco leaf grown in 2012.
In the same way that consumers are addicted to nicotine, tobacco farmers are trapped in a vicious cycle of growing tobacco, which tobacco companies exploit. Tobacco companies are often the major buyers in countries, setting the price and process of selling tobacco and requiring enormous labor and land inputs. Moreover, the tobacco companies typically supply inputs very readily, but at above-market prices and on poor credit terms that are unfavorable to the farmers.
Over the past 50 years, tobacco farming has shifted from high- to low- and middle-income countries. During this time, Africa has seen a significant increase in tobacco farming. More than 20 African countries grow tobacco. Many farmers and government officials believe that tobacco is a cash crop essential to their economic success. The short-term benefits of a crop that generates cash for farmers are offset by the long-term consequences of increased food insecurity, frequent sustained debt, environmental damage, and illness and poverty among farm workers.
Food insecurity and poverty is a concern in many of the world’s largest tobacco-growing countries. In October 2013, an expert meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO FCTC discussed economically sustainable alternatives to growing tobacco. Because the transition from growing tobacco to growing healthful food products can be difficult and complex, support from governments and international organizations is necessary to break the cycle of poverty and illness resulting from growing tobacco.
Network of African Science Academies. Preventing a Tobacco Epidemic in Africa: A Call for Effective Action to Support Health, Social, and Economic Development. (Report of the Committee on the Negative Effects of Tobacco on Africa’s Health, Economy, and Development.. Network of African Science Academies. 2014.
WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Economically Sustainable Alternatives to Tobacco Growing (In Relation to Articles 17 and 18 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control): Report by the Working Group. Seoul, Republic of Korea: WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control; 2012. Report No.: FCTC/COP/5/10.
The populations in many of the top tobacco-growing nations suffer from undernourishment.
A U.S. study found that nearly three quarters of children aged 7-17 who were laboring in tobacco fields in the USA experienced symptoms of green tobacco sickness.
This is ironic as it is illegal for children under 18 to purchase cigarettes, yet they can be employed in tobacco fields and experience illness from their labors.
“The hardest of all the crops we’ve worked in is tobacco. You get tired. It takes the energy out of you. You get sick, but then you have to go right back to the tobacco the next day.” —Dario A., 16-year-old tobacco worker in Kentucky, USA, 2013
“R.J. Reynolds doesn’t employ farm workers or grow its own tobacco. Because FARM WORKERS ARE NOT OUR EMPLOYEES, we have no direct control over their sourcing, their training, their pay rates, or their housing and access to human services.” –R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, 2014
In 2008, a tobacco crop substitution pilot project began among more than 450 families in the Yuxi municipality of the Yunnan Province in China. In 2010, farmers increased their annual profit per acre by up to 110% by growing other crops.
The Tobacco To Bamboo Project, which began in Kenya in 2006, has shown that shifting to bamboo growing is possible due to farmer willingness and training at the community level. It is estimated that annual income from bamboo farming will be 4–5 times higher than tobacco at farm gate prices, and 10 times higher when processed at the community level to make products such as baskets, furniture, etc.
Only 15% of WHO FCTC parties that completed a 2014 implementation report and that grow tobacco reported the presence of support for viable alternatives for tobacco growers. Five percent reported alternatives being promoted for tobacco workers, and only 3% reported alternatives being promoted for tobacco sellers. Much progress is needed worldwide in promoting and providing the resources for countries to transition to economically viable alternatives to tobacco growing.
In 1980, China’s tobacco production was similar to other major producers. Since that time, China has tripled its tobacco production.
In Poland, a substantial amount of the money that tobacco farmers receive is from government subsidies.
Kasperowicz B. Response to Mr. Stoklosa’s Request for Public Information from January 18, 2013. Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Poland; 2013.
According to a U.S. Department of Labor 2012 report, 16 countries use child labor in the production of tobacco.
Countries who dedicated 1% or more of arable land to growing tobacco, 2011
7.5% | LEBANON
4.8% | FYR MACEDONIA
4.5% | MALAWI
2.3% | DPR KOREA
2.3% | ZIMBABWE
1.7% | ZAMBIA
1.5% | UNITED REPUBLIC OF TANZANIA
1.3% | JORDAN
1.3% | CHINA
1.3% | MOZAMBIQUE
1.1% | ST. VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES