Tobacco growers have called for the protection of the status of the crop’s export in the international trading system, particularly in the context of the framework convention on tobacco control (FCTC).
The FCTC is critical to the tobacco industry because it is the world’s modern day global public health treaty negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
It provides an international coordinated response to combating the diseases that come about due to tobacco use and sets out specific steps for governments to manage tobacco use.
Some of the measures include the adoption of tax and price measures to reduce tobacco consumption; banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; creating a smoke-free work and public spaces; putting prominent health warnings on tobacco packages and combating illicit trade in tobacco products.
The measures could hamper the growth of the industry as expressed in a joint statement by representatives of tobacco growers from Malawi, Zambia, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe, who met together with representatives of the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) last week in Zimbabwe.
The farmers said since most of the tobacco produced in Africa is exported, growers are concerned about efforts in the context of the FCTC to change the way tobacco is treated in the international trading system.
“These changes would prevent tobacco-producing countries from legitimately defending and benefiting from those exports,” said the farmers.
They appealed to governments from tobacco growing countries to grant tobacco growers the right of consultation in the development and implementation of policies that directly impact on them.
The government should ensure that policy recommendations on tobacco adopted at the next Conference of Parties (CoP6) of FCTC are practical and do not penalise growers who depend on the crop for their livelihoods.
“[The governments] should recognise the positive economic contribution that tobacco growing makes to Africa. As a resilient, high-value cash crop well suited to smallholder farming, tobacco has changed the lives of many African farmers for the better.
“There is need to engage in a constructive dialogue on practical recommendations to deal with issues such as exploiting child labour and sustainability across the agricultural sectors,” said the farmers.
In Malawi, which is a predominantly burley-growing country, tobacco is the lifeline, contributing about 60 percent to foreign exchange earnings and 13 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP).
Data compiled by Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) show that after 14 weeks of tobacco sales, 116.8 million kilogramme (kg) has been sold at an average price of $1.76 per kg, raking in $205.80 million.
In the same period last year, a total of 103.7 million kg sold at $2.02 per kg, resulting in $209.83 million.
Contrast to Zimbabwe which mostly grow the high value flue-cured or Virginia tobacco, there, about 205.5 million kg of the crop was sold in the marketing season that ended June 27, earning more than $651.9 million.