Friday, 12 November 2010

World ban on tobacco ingredients threatens livelihoods

The World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control seeks to restrict global tobacco farming, and to ban certain ingredients used in blending tobacco. They meet in Uruguay next week, and this report from Zimbabwe explains how the country's economy will be hit.

A report from the Framework Alliance, an outlet supportive of the FCTC, explains that tobacco farming is really not in the interests of poor farmers (the link will also take you to the FCTC). It includes a report of the Uruguay president's resistance to 'pressure' from Philip Morris International on the issue of graphic warnings on packaging. The pressure that will be exerted on millions of farmers globally when their livelihoods are banned (as recommended by the Framework Alliance) is regarded as somehow benign by comparison.

I can't comment in detail on the agricultural economics of growing tobacco, but I can point out that it is not only tobacco companies that are opposed to the FCTC. The Framework Alliance claims that the FCTC, which includes 171 Parties, 'represents 89% of the world's population': it does not represent the farmers (link from Philippines):
In a statement, [International Tobacco Growers' Association] ITGA said that in spite of ringing the alarm bells, the ITGA’s request for 'a seat at the table' has been rejected by the WHO, who has allegedly considered farmers as 'interferences'.
'We are the people most affected by these guidelines', says Antonio Abrunhosa, CEO of the ITGA. 'Yet people with very limited understanding of how tobacco is grown are deciding on our fate at the throw of dice, without even consulting us.'
No doubt these worthy global governors believe they have done their homework: 'Articles 17 and 18 of the FCTC address economically sustainable alternatives to tobacco growing', says the Zimbabwe piece. The Framework Alliance gives the problem of economics a nod by saying 'tobacco farming does not alleviate poverty', but does not remark on the issue of how tobacco farmers should cope with a ban on their crop.

There are huge problems with this: for example the refusal to allow anyone who opposes the Convention's prohibitionist agenda to sit at the table, and a commitment to prohibition that far outstrips any concern for the livelihood of farmers, or realistic proposals to compensate them for what promises to be a devastating blow to their livelihoods. Of most concern of all is the global agenda of this juggernaut. In none of the stories do national politicians figure in this momentous issue of restricting a basic crop on which vast numbers rely.

Will national governments be expected to police bans imposed by WHO on agricultural produce? Just how expendable are these farmers' interests?

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