By Asmau Ahmad
The World Health Organisation has decried the conversion of land meant for food cultivation into tobacco growing purposes, noting that it has worsened food and nutrition insecurity in several parts of the world.
WHO in a statement published on its website to commemorate ‘The World No Tobacco Day,’ noted that about 3.5 million hectares of land are converted for tobacco growing each year across the globe.
The global world body also revealed that the growing of tobacco also contributed to the deforestation of 200,000 hectares annually.
It noted that an investigation revealed that tobacco growing is resource intensive and requires heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers, which have reportedly contributed to soil degradation.
On the theme; ‘Grow Food, Not Tobacco,’ WHO said it was meant to raise awareness about alternative crop production and marketing opportunities for tobacco farmers.
The statement reads partly, “This year’s theme is “Grow food, not tobacco.” The 2023 global campaign aims to raise awareness about alternative crop production and marketing opportunities for tobacco farmers and encourage them to grow sustainable, nutritious crops.
“It will also aim to expose the tobacco industry’s efforts to interfere with attempts to substitute tobacco growing with sustainable crops, thereby contributing to the global food crisis.
“The growing food crisis is driven by conflicts and wars, climatic shocks, and the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Structural causes like the choice of the crop also have an impact, and a look into tobacco growing reveals how it contributes to increased food insecurity.
“Across the globe, around 3.5 million hectares of land are converted for tobacco growing each year. Growing tobacco also contributes to the deforestation of 200 000 hectares a year.
“Tobacco growing is resource intensive and requires heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers, which contribute to soil degradation.
“Land used for growing tobacco then has a lower capacity for growing other crops, such as food, since tobacco depletes soil fertility.
“Compared with other agricultural activities such as maize growing and even livestock grazing, tobacco farming has a far more destructive impact on ecosystems as tobacco farmlands are more prone to desertification,” WHO stated.
While stressing that profits gained from tobacco products may not offset the damage done to sustainable food production in low- and middle-income countries, the global health organisation stressed the need for urgent legal measures to reduce its production.
The statement added, “The tobacco industry often touts itself as an advocate for the livelihood of tobacco farmers. This is a far cry from the truth. The intensive handling of insecticides and toxic chemicals during the cultivation of tobacco contributes to many farmers and their families suffering from ill health.
“Further, unfair contractual arrangements with tobacco companies keep farmers impoverished, and the child labour that is often woven into tobacco cultivation interferes with the right to education and is a violation of human rights.
“The 2023 WNTD campaign calls on governments and policy-makers to step up legislation, develop suitable policies and strategies, and enable market conditions for tobacco farmers to shift to growing food crops that would provide them and their families with a better life.
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control offers specific principles and policy options on the promotion of economically viable alternatives for tobacco workers, growers, and individual sellers (outlined in Article 17), and on enhancing the protection of the environment. and the health of people (Article 18). The implementation of these provisions should be strengthened in countries.”