THE World Health Organisation's reasons for proposing a ban on tobacco on health grounds and for causing environmental damage in its production are designed to harm developing countries, the Tobacco Industry Development Support Institute has said. TIDSI executive director Mr Jeffrey Takawira said on Monday that tobacco played a critical role in supporting agricultural output, exports, household income and employment generation in the country.
Tobacco is the world's most widely cultivated non-food crop and is chosen by farmers from more than 120 countries because of its performance under widely varying climatic conditions (merely requiring a frost free period of 100-130 days) and soil conditions to meet the demands of many different markets, he said.
High grade tobacco is the main agricultural crop of Zimbabwe and its main export crop. Until the onset of the political, economic and social challenges at the beginning of the millennium, the country was the third largest tobacco producer after the USA and Brazil. Low labour costs and high yields made Zimbabwe a more competitive producer of quality tobacco than Brazil and the USA.
Mr Takawira said the World Health Organisation's health concerns were not convincing as there were more critical diseases like diabetes killing people everyday, yet they did not try to ban everything related to them.
His comments come in the wake of an outcry by farmers and other stakeholders in the industry, who are feeling hard done by the proposed ban on tobacco exports.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president Mr Wonder Chabikwa said local farmers have always been following safe methods of producing tobacco.
"Our tobacco industry has phased out methyl bromide which was used for fumigation," he said. The tobacco industry is relying on varieties that address the concerns raised by WHO.
We have been attending international meetings in the Sadc region and have always been up to date with the regulations and we will never be found wanting.