The Association of Sadc Chambers of Commerce and Industry has urged member states participating at the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control's fifth conference in Korea to oppose the proposal for total banning of tobacco production. The conference started yesterday in Seoul, Korea and will end on Saturday.
The ASCCI says the proposals known as FCTC Article 17 and 18 seek to pre-emptively phase tobacco farmers out of production to alternative crops such as food crops.
These include recommendations for governments to ban minimum support prices for tobacco leaf auctions.
They also recommend the restriction of production by regulating the season in which tobacco could be grown and to reduce farming area allocated to tobacco.
The article seeks to ban financial and technical support for farmers and to dismantle all bodies connecting tobacco growers with governments.
ASCCI president Mr Oswell Binha said tobacco was an important crop in the Sadc region due to its economic value.
"ASCCI would like to urge Sadc member states who are parties to the WHO FCTC to oppose the draft guidelines. The guidelines are likely to hinder the legal trade of tobacco and tobacco products in the region, with potentially disastrous impact on millions of people who are dependent on the crop for their livelihood," he said.
ASCCI called on the Sadc secretariat to work collectively to ensure measures aimed at tobacco control were taken based on proven scientific evidence.
Mr Binha said the WHO-FCTC should respect the rights of Sadc states to make decisions in the best interest of their people and economies.
"We believe that an attempt to impose uniform measures or set values on taxes for all countries undermines the sovereign right of countries to establish and collect taxes in accordance with their national interests.
"Any such proposal must ensure that the necessary space be given to every state especially those where tobacco is such an important crop," he said.
The FCTC member states in the Sadc region are Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zambia.
Zimbabwe has not ratified the FCTC and will not have any influence at the WHO FCTC's conference.
The livelihood of at least 55 percent of the Zimbabwean population is under threat if the FCTC's proposals become law.
This means the 65 600 tobacco growers who provide employment to 1,3 million workers and support 5,6 million dependants would be stranded. Recent studies
have shown that tobacco farming contributes 15 percent of Zimbabwe's Gross Domestic Product.
Zimbabwe Tobacco Association chief executive Mr Rodney Ambrose urged responsible authorities to defend tobacco farmers.
"Our leaders should stand with us, to hear our voices and to give us the opportunity to work together to protect our way of life.
"Should these draconian measures become law, the consequences will be disastrous," he said.
Mr Ambrose said ZTA was concerned that WHO was proposing the ultimate ban of tobacco production without providing any solution to the affected farmers.
He said his organisation supported the original intent of the FCTC's article 17 treaty to provide technical and financial assistance.
Mr Ambrose said the proposals under consideration represented a departure from this original goal.
"WHO seeks to artificially reduce the supply of tobacco without providing growers any viable alternative to support their families. This is despite estimates that demand for tobacco will increase in the coming years," he said.
Zimbabwe Farmers Union second vice president, Mr Berean Mukwende said farmers' unions in the Sadc region were also holding meetings to campaign against the WHO proposal.
The tobacco ban would not only harm Zimbabwe but other countries in the Sadc region as well.
In Malawi, 30 commercial farmers and 750 000 small holder tobacco farmers employ 1,3 million people who support more than five million dependants.
Mozambique has 112 000 tobacco farmers and a minimum of 550 400 people are directly dependent on the tobacco sector for employment while an additional 3,3 million are indirectly reliant on the sector.
In Zambia, 450 000 people are directly employed in the tobacco sector supporting 2,3 million dependants.