Tobacco ban dilemma haunts Zim

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“They are saying people are dying from smoking and we are also saying if you stop us from growing tobacco, more people will die from hunger.”
– Berean Mukwende

ZIMBABWE on Tuesday joined the world in commemorating ‘World No Tobacco Day’ amid growing calls for the banning of tobacco farming.
The commemorations are held annually on May 31 and the day was set aside by the World Health Organisation (WHO) after it was established that the average tobacco-related deaths per year were on the rise.
In order to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke, WHO has put in place a framework aimed at minimising the use of tobacco.
This year’s commemorations came at a time when the local tobacco production sector is being severely affected by factors like changing weather patterns and pricing issues.
Production levels rose from a low of 48,8 million kg in 2008 to 123,5 million kg in 2011.
Backed by the increase in growers, production increased in 2012 to
132,5 million kg and 144 million kg in 2013.
In 2014, some 216 million kg valued at US$685 million was produced, but last year figures dropped to 198 million kg, earning the country US$586 million.
Small-scale tobacco producers have resorted to reducing hectarage or abandoning producing the crop as they are not making anticipated huge returns.
However, locally-produced tobacco has remained popular on the international market despite spirited efforts by the West to tarnish the image of indigenous farmers who are now the chief producers of the crop.
Tobacco production, before the Land Reform Programme, was a preserve of white commercial farmers.
Farmers adhering to best practices in tobacco production had every reason to smile all the way to the bank.
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHOFCTC) is a treaty adopted by the 56th World Health Assembly on May 21 2003.
It became the first WHO treaty adopted under Article 19 of the WHO constitution.
The treaty came into force on February 27 2005.
So far, 180 countries have joined up for the WHOFCTC with Zimbabwe signing up as recently as March 2015.
Among its obligations, the treaty commits countries to ban or restrict tobacco advertising, promotion as well as sponsorship and to place large graphic health warnings on cigarette packs.
The treaty also commits members to implementing measures to protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke, increasing the price of tobacco products to discourage its use, eliminating the illicit trade of tobacco products as well as regulating the content of tobacco products and requiring public disclosure of ingredients.
It also proposes that governments should assist tobacco producers, assuming that they will be under long-term impacts with the reduction.
According to the framework, the tobacco industry should be held responsible for the health and environmental harms related to tobacco growing and all activities associated with tobacco growing and the supply chain, and for ensuring respect for human rights for those working in connection with tobacco growing and the supply chain.
With Zimbabwe now a signatory to the treaty and tobacco production having created a form of livelihood for farmers, will the legislation not affect farmers who depend on the production of the crop?
Tobacco is the largest non-food crop by monetary value in the world.
With crops such as maize, wheat and cotton fast losing lustre and farmers shunning the growth of these crops, if tobacco production is banned what would become of these farmers?
Thousands of people are employed in the tobacco industry from farm level to the by-products level.
According to the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB),
72 000 new growers registered in 2014, but in 2015, some 56 000 new growers registered
Tobacco contributes 20 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
The sector accounts for 40 percent of exports and supplies 63 percent of raw materials for agro industries.
The country exports 98 percent of semi-finished tobacco products, with the rest being consumed locally.
Players in the tobacco production sector have formed the Smokers Health Protection and Awareness Programme International (SHAPPI), a group aimed at mobilising support against the anti-tobacco campaign.
Zimbabwe Farmers Union vice-president Berean Mukwende said the onslaught against tobacco production was unfair and not practical.
“It is not practical to abruptly order agro-based economies such as Zimbabwe to stop producing the crop as this will have negative effects on the economy,” he said.
“They are saying people are dying from smoking and we are also saying if you stop us from growing tobacco, more people will die from hunger.”
It is still a long way though before the total ban on the use of tobacco products comes into effect, but still strategies should be put in place to cushion farmers and the country in the event it comes to pass.
The country cannot afford any ban or restrictions on tobacco as it is heavily dependent on revenue from the crop.
Ironically, the US is not signatory to this treaty.

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