AMH is an independent media house free from political ties or outside influence. We have four newspapers: The Zimbabwe Independent, a business weekly published every Friday, The Standard, a weekly published every Sunday, and Southern and NewsDay, our daily newspapers. Each has an online edition.

Food-insecure nations are top tobacco producers: WHO

Food-insecure nations are top tobacco producers: WHO

TOBACCO farming is booming in some African countries. Big producers include Zimbabwe and Malawi.

However, as the world marked the "No tobacco day" on May 31, the World Health Organisation sounded the alarm on the increase in tobacco farming land at the expense of food crops.

Zimbabwe is Africa’s largest tobacco producer.

The size of the tobacco crop increased despite increased fertiliser prices caused by the war in Ukraine, Zimbabwean officials say.

"There are more than 350 million people having hunger and food insecurity issues, and many of the countries where these issues are a concern are also big tobacco growing economies. In Africa, for example, in the last 15 years. The growth of tobacco has gone up by nearly 20%," Vinayak Mohan Prasad programme manager, tobacco control, WHO senior adviser focus said.

The number of people facing acute food insecurity rose to 258 million in 58 countries in 2022, according to the latest Global Report on Food Crises.

Prasad says that food insecurity is growing in countries that should be able to feed their people.

"There are countries now which are requesting food because of various crises. The access to food is limited and many of these countries are well endowed with enough land — fertile land, water to grow food for many other countries. And so it's ironic that they are ending up importing food from other countries."

Industrial tactics'

Currently, China funds the bulk of production and buys the lion’s share of Zimbabwe’s tobacco.

Once harvested, tobacco leaves are dried and prepared and will go on to make products such as cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco and pipe tobacco.

"The largest growers of tobacco continue to be China, India, Brazil. But the growth of tobacco has increased many fold in Africa in the last couple of years. Big ones are Malawi, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zambia and to some extent Uganda, Kenya and other eastern African countries. And then on the western side is Cote d'Ivoire, which is also a big grower of tobacco. Down south is Mozambique and some tobacco plants are grown in Angola and South Africa. So, it's nearly 124 countries in the world that grow some form of tobacco," explains Prasad.

The WTO secretariat estimated that Zimbabwe exported unmanufactured tobacco worth US$741 million in 2020.

The southern African country now wants to make its tobacco industry more lucrative by manufacturing more cigarettes at home and limiting foreign funding of farmers.Despite the financial gains, the WHO senior adviser called out the industry's influence, denouncing the effects of tobacco growing.

"The industrial tactics, tobacco industry tactics to push tobacco farming as an economically viable, most profitable crop. And then leading to countries providing millions of dollars of subsidies to promote tobacco. So, the farmer gets into a poverty trap after some time.

 The government is into subsidies and the onus of understanding is that these crops are good for the economy", Prasad said.

According to a study published by Tobacco Control, a journal on tobacco research in 2021, Zimbabwean tobacco farmers, close to 60% of farmers, said they were in debt. The sample involved 381 farmers.

Rebound and spotlight

Tobacco is on a rebound in this southern African nation where production plummeted from a high of about 240 million kilogrammes (265 000 tonnes) in 1998, according to government figures, to less than 50 million kilogrammes (60 000 tonnes) a decade later following the eviction of thousand white farmersfarmers who accounted for the majority of growers.In recent years, Zimbabwe has rapidly increased the size of its crop, regaining its spot as one of the world’s top five exporters of tobacco, peaking at 261 million kilogrammes (288 000 tonnes) in 2019.

Zimbabwe expects to harvest 230 million kilogrammes (254 000 tonnes) of the golden leaf this season, up from 212 million kilogrammes (234 000 tonnes) last year, according to officials.

Auction premium prices are paid for the “golden leaf” that is exported around the world.

"Tobacco growing leads to not only harming the environment, it leads to deforestation. Five percent of deforestation is just because of tobacco growing," Prasad explains.

According to WHO, tobacco farming causes harm to the farmers themselves.

More than a million child labourers are estimated to be working on tobacco farms, missing their opportunity for an education, adds Prasad.

"More than one million children are on the farm because tobacco requires a lot of labour. Nearly 9-10 months of working in the field, women and children get sucked into the farms. So, all of that health effects, environmental effects and an erroneous understanding that tobacco growing is actually very remunerative but it's not. So we want to spotlight all this," he explains.

Related Topics