Tobacco farmers offered alternative crops

This is according to Lutgard Kagaruki from the Tanzania Tobacco Control Forum (TTCF), who addressed a panel at the World Health Organisation’€™s tobacco control conference in Durban yesterday (Wed 19th Nov).

Tanzania is the second biggest grower of tobacco in Africa after Malawi, but many tobacco farmers were ‘€œenslaved in permanent debt to the tobacco companies’€ and wanted to get out, according to Kagaruki.

‘€œThe tobacco companies give subsidies and loans them to buy fertiliser, chemicals [pesticides] and seed. But then they under-grade the crops and set low prices. The farmers can’€™t repay the loans and find themselves enslaved in permanent debt bondage,’€ said Kagaruki.

The 80,000 tobacco farmers in Tanzania earned an estimated $1 a day, she added.

In addition, three-quarters of the farmers smoked and suffered from the respiratory sicknesses and cancer associated with smoking.

The TTCF started to organise among tobacco farmers in the Namtambo District, encouraging them to rather grow food by pointing out that at least they could eat their crops when they faced hard times.

‘€œIn October 2006, there were 22 300 tobacco farmers in the district but a year later, there were only 6 333,’€ said Kagaruki.

‘€œThey have started growing simsim [sesame seeds] and sunflowers and groundnuts, and they are very happy. They call me on my cellphone and tell me how well they are doing,’€ she added.

While tobacco is Tanzania’€™s second biggest foreign exchange earner, bringing some $55.5-million into the country in 2003/4, one of the country’€™s cancer institutes, the Ocean Road Cancer Institute, reported spending $30-million treating smoking-related cancers during the same period.

However, Dr Yusuf Salojee from South Africa’€™s National Council Against Smoking, warned that ‘€œfinding alternative livelihoods for farmers does not work as a tobacco control measure’€.

‘€œWith the collapse of Zimbabwe’€™s tobacco farms after land seizures, all that happened was that Tanzania, Zambia and even Mozambique started to grow more tobacco,’€ he said. ‘€œIt does not reduce tobacco demand but rather shift supply to another country.’€

Daniel Sibetchem from Cameroon’€™s health ministry said that there was a worrying increase in smoking amongst his country’€™s young people, with 44% of school kids having tried tobacco. Over one in five children aged 13 to 14 were already smokers.

Nigeria has resorted to the courts to control the spread of smoking, according to Dr Michael Anibueze of the country’€™s federal ministry of health.

‘€œIn 2006, a survey of 11 hospitals in Lagos found that two people a day were dying because of tobacco use. In that year alone, in the 11 hospitals there were 9,527 tobacco-related deaths,’€ said Anibueze.

In a bid to get compensation for the deaths and treatment of people with smoking-related illnesses, four states in Nigeria plus the federal government instituted a law suit against 11 tobacco companies.

‘€œThe tobacco companies have raised every legal technical objection, including refusing to accept court papers,’€ said Anibueze.

However, the last tobacco company, Phillip Morris, was recently served with papers via the Swiss embassy in Nigeria, he said, and the case could now proceed.

The WHO conference ends tomorrow and the civil society delegates have high hopes that even stronger measures to control tobacco will be adopted by some 600 delegates from over 150 countries.

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