Tobacco Growers from Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America gathered at the International Tobacco Growers’ Association (ITGA) annual meeting in Litohora, Greece, on Oct. 16-17, asking governments and institutions to open a formal dialogue to address the sector’s challenges resulting from a decrease in demand for its products and the absence of viable alternative crops.
Continued declines in the demand for tobacco will lead to a drastic drop in employment and family income in many countries, according to the ITGA. Without a concerted effort to find alternatives for tobacco growers, the organization fears the situation will get even worse.
The gathering took place against a backdrop of considerable political turmoil, including the deepening of the Middle East crisis and the growing potential for conflicts around the South China Sea, the Korean peninsula and eastern Europe. The rise of populist parties in many developed-world democracies is also calling into question the continuity of long-established trends.
There are, nevertheless, some unshaken realities, according to the ITGA: The present population of more than 900 million smokers will likely remain stable for at least a decade. The population of the world will go from the present 7.5 billion to 9 billion in 2050, which will mean that food production will have to increase steeply in the coming decades, even years.
COP6 reaffirmed the importance of carrying out studies and research to identify alternative crops that could provide a level of income and assured export markets equal to those provided by tobacco. For this reason, it was agreed upon that pilot projects in tobacco-growing regions would be necessary to demonstrate the long-term feasibility of such alternative crops.
However, the FCTC keeps excluding growers and their representatives from the discussions about matters having a direct impact on tobacco production and therefore, on growers’ livelihoods.
With COP8 on the horizon, the growers will have to be prepared for a new wave of dangerous proposals. The ITGA is expecting direct attacks on tobacco production this time, given the aggressive FCTC report on the impact of tobacco growing, released last spring. This report referred almost exclusively to tobacco’s negative impacts. According to the ITGA, it contained biased and in many cases totally unscientific views—particularly on possible alternatives to tobacco—and highly exaggerated positions on problems such as child labor, deforestation, soil erosion and water management.
The ITGA says that tobacco growers are committed to working in a compliant manner, following good agricultural practices to produce a crop supplying a legal market of more than 900 million consumers. Their crop provides a livelihood to millions of farmers, rural workers and their families around the world.
They also agree about the efforts to be made in order to improve tobacco production and sustainability to address challenges, such as child labor and deforestation, and accept the need of regulating consumption of tobacco products.
Even so, the ITGA expects some aggressive proposals against the growers in the coming COP besides the usual ones on plain packaging, high taxation of tobacco products, ingredients and possibly, nicotine reduction in cigarettes.
Any of the foreseeable scenarios carries an almost certain future reduction in the demand for tobacco products and ITGA members and tobacco growers in general need to begin adapting to this reality.
Prices have been stable or are falling due to the fact that many countries have not reduced their production and some are still increasing it. A price crash has not happened yet because the weather has reduced production in some of the biggest producers, but the forecast for the next crop is not a pleasant one, according to the ITGA.
If the weather is “favorable,” the sector may have more than 200,000 tons of oversupply, particularly in flue cured. The ITGA has been insisting on the need to foster diversification and some of its members have already gone a long way in that path—but a lot more has to be done. As the FCTC is doing little to support research on diversification, the ITGA and its associations will have to find ways of doing it.
- To recognize the significant economic contribution of the tobacco crop to the economies of tobacco-growing countries to be recognized, and