New report helps to set record straight on tobacco farming
In February 2012, a report into the effects of tobacco growing was published by DD International, an independent international development consultancy company dedicated to improving the wellbeing of resource-poor communities in the developing world.
We commissioned the report to inform the debate around whether economically sustainable alternatives to tobacco farming currently exist.
DD International reviewed over 300 pieces of literature about the environmental and social impacts of tobacco farming, and undertook in-depth studies of three contrasting tobacco growing countries – Uganda, Brazil and Bangladesh.
Their report concluded that there is no clear evidence to support allegations that tobacco cultivation poses a greater hazard to either the welfare of poor farmers or the environment than other agricultural crops.
It also supports our concerns that a World Health Organisation treaty on tobacco control may be seeking to pre-emptively move farmers out of tobacco growing and into alternative livelihoods without any clear evidence base. There has been no proper consideration of the potential implications for tobacco farmers, and no comprehensive attempt to consult with key tobacco producing countries, their farmers or tobacco manufacturers.
The report makes clear that:
- the existing research base is both limited and lacking in contextual understanding
- there was no clear evidence found to support a causal link between tobacco cultivation and poverty
- there is minimal evidence of tobacco cultivation contributing to food insecurity
- child labour is no more prevalent in tobacco farming than any other crops
The environmental issues associated with tobacco growing are no greater than those posed by any other commercial agricultural commodity. Any risks are mitigated by the help and support offered to farmers by British American Tobacco – and other large tobacco companies – on better farm management.
The advice we give, combined with the income that tobacco farming can generate for farmers, sets the standards to which other ‘alternative crops’ must aspire if they are to provide ‘alternative livelihoods’ to tobacco cultivation.
You can read the full report on DD International’s website:
Why did we commission the report?
We commissioned this report because we are concerned that policy decisions are being taken without robust, peer-reviewed evidence.
The current remit of the World Health Organisation’s tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC), is calling on governments to promote “as appropriate,” economically viable alternatives to tobacco growing.
However, we are concerned that those tasked with exploring this issue are exceeding the scope of their mandate by appearing to recommend farmers are pre-emptively phased out of tobacco growing - regardless of whether or not the demand for tobacco products continues.
We commissioned DD International to report on whether the current evidence on this subject supports accusations that the impacts of tobacco farming are worse than any other agricultural crop - thus supporting decisions to pre-emptively move farmers out of tobacco.
And the verdict is: it does not.
What we believe
We believe that while the demand for tobacco exists, farmers should have the right to choose whether they grow tobacco or not.
We do not have any issue with governments deciding to promote, as appropriate, economically sustainable alternatives to tobacco growing if tobacco farmers in their countries are seriously affected as a consequence of local tobacco control programmes.
But we don’t believe that governments should try to drive farmers out of tobacco growing as this will result in adverse social, economic and other impacts for those farmers and their wider communities.
Any assessment of economically sustainable alternative livelihoods to tobacco cultivation should be evidence-based, look at all the potential impacts for all involved; and use a methodology agreed in consultation with impacted growers, key tobacco producing countries, tobacco merchants and manufacturers.
Tobacco farming does not cause poverty
Although the case studies in the DD International only look at three countries, they can be used to challenge generalisations - helping to improve the quality of discussion around this important topic.
The case studies show that allegations claiming a causal link between tobacco growing and poverty do not hold true as a generalisation. They concluded that:
- Tobacco is not the only source of income for the farmers, nor the only crop grown;
- Income from tobacco farming is mostly seen to increase rather than threaten or reduce food security;
- There is movement in and out of cultivation of tobacco suggesting a degree of choice and this movement does not support any picture of entrapment in cultivation through debt;
- Tobacco is seen to be a demanding crop in terms of labour and costs and the risks of cultivation are recognised, but there is choice as to whether to cultivate tobacco or not and that partly depends on individual household circumstances and resources;
- There is no evidence of tobacco cultivation leading to adverse labour or employment outcomes; and
- The market support for tobacco cultivation is comparable or better than that available for other cash crops.