Alternative Livelihoods and Environment

18 Aug 2008

Tobacco is grown in over 100 countries, displacing important food crops and accelerating deforestation, which contributes to global warming.

The tobacco industry uses farmers as pawns in its steadfast opposition to tobacco control measures, especially implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). In particular, it repeats its dire predictions that FCTC measures will destroy the livelihoods of millions of farmers worldwide.

In fact, exploitative buying practices and unfair contracts of cigarette makers and leaf-buying companies trap famers in cycles of poverty, push farmers into debt, and create conditions that promote child labour.

In addition, any decline in global demand for tobacco that results from FCTC implementation will take one or more generations because tobacco is highly addictive. Moreover, because the global population is increasing, the overall demand for tobacco is likely to remain constant even if the global percentage of smokers declines.

The slow decline in the number of tobacco users gives governments and farmers time to transition away from tobacco leaf, and to examine how companies’ contracts with farmers contribute to debt bondage. Provisions in the FCTC – Articles 17 and 18 – are intended to help farmers find economically sustainable alternatives to tobacco farming.

Tobacco farming

Tobacco companies often entice farmers to produce tobacco leaf by offering farming loans and a guaranteed buyer. However, low leaf prices set by the tobacco industry as well as manipulation of leaf prices often trap farmers in a vicious cycle of poverty and indebtedness.

In countries around the world, including Malawi, the Philippines and Bangladesh, such buying practices often lock farmers and farm workers into cycles of poverty and increase the need for child labour. In the major tobacco growing countries, over 1.3 million children work on tobacco farms producing profits for leaf companies and cigarette manufacturers.

Production requirements imposed on tobacco farmers by tobacco companies force many farmers and their families to endure long hours of stoop labour, food insecurity, exposure to nicotine poisoning (‘green tobacco sickness’), toxic pesticides, the lack of clean water, poor health, miserable housing conditions and basic labour and human rights violations.

The majority of profits from tobacco farming go to leaf buying companies and cigarette manufacturers, while many farmers and farm workers find themselves poor and in debt. In the United States, tobacco growers’ share of each dollar spent on a pack of cigarettes dropped from US$0.07 in 1980 to $0.02 in the late 1990s, while the companies’ share rose from $0.37 to $0.49.9

Tobacco farming undermines the health and wellness of tobacco farmers and farm workers by:

  • Exposing farmers and farm workers to a range of chemicals used in fertilization and pest control.
  • In addition to the chemical poisoning, farm workers absorb nicotine through their skin during the tobacco harvest. Green tobacco sickness can result from such exposure.

The environment suffers due to tobacco farming. Tobacco cultivation contributes to deforestation, soil depletion of nutrients, contamination of water sources and pollution from pesticides and fertilizers.

Many tobacco farmers are only part-time tobacco growers. Farmers are also growing vegetable crops which can fetch higher prices and yields compared to tobacco. In the

Philippines for example, growing pepper, bitter gourd, onion, tomatoes and eggplant bring higher incomes than tobacco leaves.

By replacing food crops, tobacco farming may aggravate food insecurity in some countries, and could lead to food shortages. In 2009, undernourishment rates in 6 of the top 10 tobacco-producing countries were between 5 percent and 27 percent.

As cigarette makers and leaf-buying companies seek to maintain high profits by keeping costs low for labour and leaf, many tobacco families struggle to meet basic food and nutrition requirements.

The work of the COP

The FCTC COP established the Working Group on Economically Sustainable Alternatives to Tobacco Growing at COP3 in 2008, following two years of work by a study group.

The WG submitted a progress report to COP4 in 2010, where its mandate was extended. It was extended again after the WG submitted a working report to COP5 (2012).

At COP6 (2014) Parties adopted a set of policy options and recommendations from the WG.

FCA support for Article 17 and 18

FCA supports the implementation of Article 17 and 18 in the following ways:

  • Exposing lies perpetuated by the tobacco industry and how it exploits and mobilises tobacco growers to undermine and derail the FCTC.
  • Highlighting the importance of applying FCTC Article 5.3 (on tobacco industry interference) to inter-sectoral work at the national level as well as to inter-governmental partners (such as the ILO and FAO).
  • Highlighting the real problems facing tobacco growers that must be addressed.
  • Highlighting case studies of tobacco growers who have shifted successfully to alternate livelihoods.

Support FCA

FCA works hard to ensure that Parties to the FCTC COP implement the Convention’s tobacco control measures. We also advocate for greater recognition of the role that tobacco control can play in improving global health and development. However, we are a non-profit and rely on the generous support of individuals and organisations

You can help support our work by donating online.



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