January 27, 2011 - Large groups of farmers in Bangladesh are switching from rice cultivation to tobacco farming, creating concerns about possible food shortages, according to the government and anti-tobacco lobbyists.
“Last year, I sold [US$1,969 worth of] tobacco, which is impossible if I grow food items,” said Shofi Mia, a tobacco farmer in Gorpara village, Manikgong District, 70km northwest of the capital, Dhaka.
For years, farmers have lamented the low prices they get for their crops. Cut off from markets because of poor infrastructure, they say they have become increasingly vulnerable to price-gouging from middlemen.
Falling profits have been blamed for farmers’ conversion to tobacco cultivation, according to Syed Mahbubul Alam, secretary of local NGO Bangladesh Anti-Tobacco Alliance (BATA).
Tobacco companies are recruiting farmers with free seeds, fertilizers, insecticides and “whatever we need for cultivation”, said farmer Mia from Gorpara.
Anti-tobacco activists said tobacco companies win over contractors with promises of profits which often do not materialize.
“Many farmers later understand that it is not [a] profitable business but they cannot leave it as they cannot repay the loans they have taken from the companies,” said BATA’s Alam.
Tobacco companies buy the crop, guaranteeing a steady demand and prices. “We do not have to be worried about the [sale] of the products as companies take this from our [farms],” said tobacco farmer Bablu Mia, from the same village.
Tobacco growing has a number of significant negative impacts on farmers, as it worsened poverty, and relies heavily on child and bonded labour. This is a situation which had trapped many farming families in cycles of debt and poverty, while increasing the vulnerability of the rural poor. Tobacco farming also has a serious and negative environmental impact, as it caused pollution, soil degradation and deforestation, thereby contributing to adverse climate change and loss in biodiversity. Many tobacco farmers will like to switch to alternatives, but they often faced with challenges such as access to credits, markets, technical assistance, inputs and skills. (Seek alternative livelihood to tobacco growing - WHO (Graphic Business), Lucy Adoma Yeboah's Stories, 5/18/2010)
Has WHO FCTC done a good job in helping farmers with growing alternative crops?? Article 17 of the Framework Convention states: "Parties shall, in cooperation with each other and with competent international and regional intergovernmental organizations, promote, as appropriate, economically viable alternatives for tobacco workers, growers and, as the case may be, individual sellers." (World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
Reference: BANGLADESH: Growing interest in tobacco farming, IRIN - humanitarian news and analysis, 1/26/2011.
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