British American Tobacco - Alternative crops

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Alternative crops

Alternative crops

The right to choose

We support moves that look to increase the sustainability of tobacco growing.

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 Organization’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).

It is true that, like all crops, tobacco has impacts, but our approach to agriculture and working with farmers is designed to mitigate and reduce them.

We agree that governments should look at the impacts of tobacco growing, as with any commercial crop. But we believe this should be done in an inclusive and evidence-based way that takes into consideration the wider agricultural context.

As we actively engage with regulators and governments on this issue, we have developed five core principles which we believe can help guide their future policy decision making.

Independent evidence

Alternative crops
The evidence points to the need to carefully specify and understand context when investigating the role of tobacco cultivation in rural livelihoods and to contrast tobacco growers with non-tobacco growers. Policy makers need to ensure that context is taken into account, avoiding a 'one size fits all' approach." [1]

To help contribute to the evidence base on tobacco growing and to support public policy decision making, we commissioned independent research by Development Delivery International. The 2012 report, 'The role of tobacco growing in rural livelihoods' [1] , comprised a literature review of over 300 published sources, as well as investigations of three contrasting tobacco growing countries: Bangladesh, Brazil and Uganda.

The research 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 compared to other available agricultural crops.

The role of tobacco growing in rural livelihoods - Development Delivery International (4,289 kb) 

Shaping the future

We recommend five core principles for guiding future policy on tobacco growing. We believe future policy should be:

  • Driven by demand and market dynamics
  • Based on sound research and scientific evidence
  • Understands the long-term nature of agricultural issues
  • Considers the local context and that moves to alternative crops might have a bigger impact in some countries
  • Adopts a broad approach to agricultural problems as the majority of the challenges of tobacco growing are common to most crops
  • Understands that tobacco is part of a mixed agricultural system grown alongside or in rotation with other crops
  • Acknowledges the initiatives already underway, to avoid duplication and ensure resources are used efficiently
Locally relevant
  • Takes local political, economic and environmental factors into account
  • Gives precedence to local implications and priorities
  • Finds practical, workable solutions that can be adapted locally
  • Allows all participants in the tobacco growing supply chain to participate in decision making
  • Takes a consultative approach, to cover wider issues such as the environment, regional communities, excise and the labour market
  • Does not restrict the tobacco industry’s existing support for farming communities, as this may exacerbate poverty and poor environmental management
Respectful of livelihoods
  • Prioritises farmers and their communities
  • Ensures farmers continue to be free to choose which crops they grow
  • Acknowledges the significant role tobacco farmers play in their local communities
[1] Development Delivery International, The role of tobacco growing in rural livelihoods: rethinking the debate around tobacco supply reduction, February 2012.

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