Various tobacco farmers associations have expressed their reservations on recommendations of Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), saying it appears that it appears to have gone off-track in its recommendations by proposing that the tobacco workers be provided alternative crops for agriculture.
In a letter written by Haji Rustam Khan Swati to Minister for Finance, Chairman PTB, Chairman Trade Development Authority of Pakistan, Minister for Commerce and Minister for Food & Security Research have clearly spelled out these apprehensions. The letter deplores the fact that FCTC’s thrust is not on supply reduction but on helping farmers cope with a reduction in demand and improved farming conditions.
The letter also shows apprehension that the key facilitators of the working group seem to be seeking to promote a tobacco farming reduction strategy by mandating programmes that artificially force alternate livelihoods to tobacco farmers and reducing the area assigned for tobacco farming. “This goes,” says the letter “against the original intention of the FCTC treaty.”
In his letter Swati also shows reservation on artificially forcing alternate livelihoods to tobacco farmers in Pakistan and maintains that they should not be prohibited from tobacco farming. “As long as there is a demand for the crop,” says the letter, “it should be up to the farmers to decide,” adding,” any evaluation of financially viable alternative livelihoods should weigh the potential impacts of the alternatives and must be based on facts and evidence and must also ensure that the tobacco farmers are involved in the policy making and implementation.”
The letter also laments the fact the working group hasn’t yet provided any explicit options for governments seeking to help tobacco farmers diversify to other viable crops in anticipation of a potential reduction in demand for tobacco. Expressing grave concern on controversial FCTC recommendation for reducing the area assigned for tobacco farming, Swati expressed the resolve of entire tobacco farmers’ community across Pakistan to protect the tobacco farming community in the country.
“Farmers are faced”, the letter goes on to add, “with multiple challenges restrictions on crop size, market monopolisation, scarce skilled labour and volatile markets.” It also, highlights the fact that the vacant tract of land in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is immediately occupied due to political vendetta and farmers do not have any other option as no new research has surfaced so far to suggest some other crop instead of tobacco.
Highlighting his concern that decision makers should also take into account the local factors, Swati says the working group responsible for proposals is being driven by bureaucrats from Geneva with little or no real world knowledge of agriculture, tobacco farming or the challenges faced by farmers and farm workers in rural areas.
“The FCTC’s recommendations,” says Swati in his letter, ‘cannot be implemented in countries like Pakistan because of Small and marginal farmers, tribal youth and weaker sections of the society that are the main beneficiaries of tobacco farming.”
Highlighting the soil characteristics of KP land, the letter highlights the fact the soil in the tobacco growing regions of Pakistan is not suitable for cultivation of any other agricultural crop. Farmers cannot be asked to switch over to the alternative means when very little research on alternative, economically viable crops has been undertaken and any future research will require lengthy time trials.’
It may be recalled here that tobacco provides livelihood security for more than forty thousand farmers and labour engaged in tobacco farming besides thousands of thousands of people working in processing, manufacturing and exports. Reduction in cultivation of tobacco would impact the livelihood of labourers and farmers. Cash strapped Government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is not expected of doing away with this cash crop overnight with government and civil society organisations’ efforts to promote good agricultural, healthcare and labour practices, safe, fair and environmentally sound tobacco farming can be achieved.