THE International Tobacco Growers Association Africa (ITGA) Regional meeting called for the participation of tobacco growers in the formulation of regulations and policies that are threatening the production of tobacco around the world. The production of the golden leaf that provides sustenance to millions of people is under siege from the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
The FCTC requires State parties to adopt and implement tobacco control measures arguing that tobacco use kills 5,4 million people worldwide each year and if current trends continue, this figure is set to reach 8,3 million by the year 2030. The FCTC's recommendations suggest limiting the area of land under tobacco could be an important aspect of tobacco control and that governments should not provide any incentives for increasing the acreage of land for cultivating tobacco. Instead, they and should go so far as to freeze the total acreage under tobacco by delimiting specific tobacco growing areas and thereafter taking suitable measures to reduce these areas.
Organisations such as the ITGA have opposed the extreme regulations imposed by the WHO, arguing that the regulations will not only destroy national economies but the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on tobacco. Speaking at the meeting of the ITGA Africa region in Harare, ITGA president, Francois Van Der Merwe, said the organisation was responsible for over 30 million growers around the world and it was the organisation's responsibility to ensure that the interests of these people are protected.
"We should not let the West dictate for Africa on how our tobacco sector should look like and how the regulations should be like. Tobacco growers should not be under-estimated, they are business people, global players because they compete on the global market where international companies, basically four of them buy all tobacco outside of China and therefore growers should be respected and treated like business people," Van Der Merwe said.
"The objective of the WHO is to reduce the consumption of tobacco products around the world. It is a fair objective but I believe when it came to tobacco, the organisation has lost the plot. Something went wrong and tobacco growers are in the middle of that which went wrong."
ITGA has actively opposed the regulations imposed on farmers over the years.
"If we say yes, we support the reduction of tobacco consumption, we need sensible regulations and taxation of the product and we need education of consumers around the world. But we do not support extreme regulations of our sector; we will constantly and vehemently oppose any efforts of extreme regulation.
"A lot of destruction has already taken place, thought out by health bureaucrats sitting in their black suits and air-conditioned offices in Geneva, not having the faintest idea of what the sector is all about. You cannot regulate a sector like tobacco without consulting with the growers. How is it possible that someone can come up with guidelines of putting farmers out of production without having been to 10 or 15 farmers in Zimbabwe, Malawi or anywhere in the world?" Van Der Merwe added.
He urged African growers from Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa to come together and speak with one voice and oppose the anti-tobacco lobby.
"Farmers should therefore have responsibilities, they need to act as business people, they need to understand their market, and they also need to produce their tobacco in a socially responsible manner, showing respect of the land they operate in, showing respect for the environment, their countries and the commodity they produce."
Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development secretary, Ringston Chitsiko, said the FCTC remained the biggest threat to the tobacco industry. He said WHO and FCTC were operating outside their territories by attempting to regulate agriculture and trade policies without consulting those affected.