Farmers in Ruvuma Region have significantly improved their livelihood and health after abandoning tobacco growing which trapped them in vicious cycle of poverty and escalate deforestation and adopted more profitable crops.
The Executive Officer for Tanzania Tobacco Control Forum, Lutgard Kagaruki said at the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Cape Town, South Africa that more than 70 per cent of tobacco farmers had abandoned the crop and adopted alternative crops such as maize, paddy and legumes which have proved to surpass tobacco for the total net profit and rates of return.
Ms Kagaruki said data from Namtumbo District Council indicate that between 2006 and 2014 there has been increased tonnage in both food and cash crops and a decrease in tobacco production. She said maize and rice production increased by 452 per cent and 377 per cent respectively and pigeon peas and sesame increased by 5,839 per cent and 1,302 per cent respectively. Tobacco production increased by 587 per cent from 2006 to 2009, but dropped by 491 per cent between 2010 and 2014, she said.
Tanzania is second in Africa in tobacco production after Malawi. However, despite high production of tobacco, it remains a poor country and tobacco farmers worse off while the country loses more than 61,000 hectares of forest annually due to tobacco growing and curing. In recent years, there has been considerable debate about the social, environmental and economic impact of tobacco growing, especially in developing countries.
Organisations such as the Framework Convention Alliance and the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control have called for tobacco farmers to be encouraged to switch to alternative crops. Such calls are based on claims that tobacco growing has worse impacts than other crops. In particular, there are concerns regarding deforestation, the exacerbation of poverty and social inequality through bonded labour and child labour and occupational health risks such as green tobacco sickness (GTS).
Despite tobacco being a vital foreign currency earner, most local growers of the crop are languishing in abject poverty with nothing tangible to show for their hard work. Some 2000 delegates - researchers, scientists, UN and civil society representatives, healthcare professionals and policymakers from more than 100 countries - attended the triennial conference, whose name, "Tobacco or Health," implies that the two cannot co-exist.
The conference was held amid concerns that the tobacco industry flush with money from huge profits from their operations worldwide, are targeting the youth group to increase tobacco consumption and cigarette smoking among the young adults.
However, global efforts against tobacco industry received a massive boost from former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg who announced to provide 20 million US dollars to create a new global watchdog agency that will be monitoring tobacco industry's attempts to undermine tobacco control measures under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).
The WHO FCTC measures are aimed at reducing the prevalence of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke. The new global watchdog agency, Stopping Tobacco Organisations and Products (STOP) to be run by his foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies was launched as the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health got under way in Cape Town.
The new initiative came amid reports that tobacco kills seven million people a year and more than 80 per cent of the globe's 1-billion smokers live in low and middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).