Tobacco curbs: India leads alternative crop plan

Tobacco curbs: India leads alternative crop plan

Rediff Business News
4 July 2007

Today -- two days before the 148 nations' meet on global tobacco treaty comes to an end in Bangkok -- India demonstrated leadership on behalf of countries in South-East Asian Region to integrate agricultural diversification and alternative crops to tobacco in the comprehensive tobacco control as FCTC proposes. Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is the first global corporate accountability and public health treaty in the world.

The 2000 report of the World Health Organization Committee of Experts on Tobacco Industry Documents reveals transnational tobacco corporations' strategy to make prominent use of the International Tobacco Growers Association. The report continues, "ITGA claims to represent the interests of local farmers. The [tobacco corporations'] documents, however, indicate that tobacco companies have funded the organization and directed its work. Through their persistent outreach to officials from developing countries, these companies gradually built a support within UN agencies and structures, most notably the World Health Assembly and Food and Agriculture Organization."

Though transnational tobacco corporations like Philip Morris/Altria, British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco use sophisticated public relations machinery to claim that tobacco-related agriculture creates jobs and boosts economic development, the facts speak otherwise.

Transnational tobacco corporations have created a supply system that exploits farmers while assuring growth in corporate profits. In February 2007, the Ad-hoc Study Group on Agricultural Diversification and Crop Alternatives to Tobacco of FCTC held its first session in Brazil.
Tobacco industry attempts to interfere in agricultural diversification:

Transnational tobacco corporations have supported and sustained a production system that has undermined human health and stifled human development. Therefore, in keeping with WHA Resolution 54.18 and FCTC Article 5.3, these corporations should not be at the table discussing alternatives to tobacco production.

Acting as a mouthpiece for the tobacco industry, ITGA and its country chapters have spread misinformation and attempted to influence tobacco growers in countries such as Brazil , Argentina , India , South Africa , Zimbabwe, Malawi and Kenya as a strategy to slow down or block ratification and implementation of the FCTC. The chief executive of ITGA spoke on behalf of eight government and non-governmental organizations at the public hearing on agricultural diversification and alternative crops to tobacco held in Brazil in February 2007, claiming to represent governments and farmers, while neglecting to reveal ITGA's connection to the tobacco transnationals.

Tobacco corporations' involvement in Brazilian tobacco control policy is especially troubling. Brazil's sectoral chamber for the tobacco production chain includes representatives from Souza Cruz (British American Tobacco's Brazilian subsidiary), the association of Brazilian tobacco growers (an arm of the International Tobacco Growers Association with its own well established ties to BAT), and Brazil's ministry of agriculture, among others. The chamber provides a direct forum for tobacco industry representatives to meet formally with members of government about tobacco control policy, in violation of Article 5.3 of the FCTC. As the world's second-largest producer of tobacco, Brazil provides a powerful case study on the dangers of creating space for the tobacco industry in deliberations about tobacco control.

The social and economic failures delivered by the production system engineered by transnational tobacco corporations make it incumbent upon governments to implement Article 5.3 of the FCTC fully -- which includes shielding their efforts to develop alternatives to tobacco-intensive agriculture from the transnational tobacco corporations that have a vested interest in maintaining the current failed system.

In this regard, the working group on social and economic challenges for tobacco alternatives and crop diversification noted, "the tobacco industry may have influence on regional policymakers and legislators, and on the regional agricultural policy."

Support to farmers and tobacco growing countries is vital.

Only five of the 125 tobacco exporting nations derive more than 5 per cent of their export from tobacco. These five nations are concentrated at the bottom of UNDP's 2006 Human Development Index: Uganda , Zimbabwe , United Republic of Tanzania, Malawi , and the Central African Republic . Far from being a path to prosperity, tobacco production paves the way to poverty.

Tobacco corporations, their subsidiaries and affiliates should play no role in decisions related to agricultural diversification because, as highlighted by the study group, the industry's definition of diversification differs fundamentally from that of the public health community.

It is vital that the FCTC find ways to support the farmers, agricultural workers, and communities that have grown dependent on a tobacco economy. These nations suffer development set-backs as a result of their tobacco production.

Wealthy countries that have chartered, assisted and benefited from the international expansion of tobacco transnationals bear a responsibility to make transition away from tobacco-dependent economies viable. FCTC urges developed countries to channel resources, based on specific requests, to developing countries for implementation of the convention.

FCTC should also advance proposals for debt relief for farmers tied to transnational tobacco corporations through the current financing system, and communicate clearly about phased transitions that support farmers and build their trust in tobacco control measures.

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