Tobacco farmers against WHO proposals

November 1, 2012
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WHO says the taxes could raise more than $5 billion (Sh426 billion) in funds for world health efforts, but critics of the tax increases say they would be regressive and lead to the loss of millions of jobs/FILE

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 1 – The Kenya Tobacco Farmers Association (KETOFA), representing 40,000 tobacco farmers, has joined the global campaign in opposition of the publication of new proposals to regulate tobacco farming by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

WHO is facing criticism for the cigarette and tobacco control it’s set to propose at an upcoming November conference in South Korea where they are considering an excise tax of up to 70 percent on cigarettes, as well as new restrictions on electronic cigarettes that do not contain tobacco.

WHO says the taxes could raise more than $5 billion (Sh426 billion) in funds for world health efforts, but critics of the tax increases say they would be regressive and lead to the loss of millions of jobs.

KETOFA CEO Joseph Wanguhu said, “By suggesting governments phase out tobacco growing, these ideological recommendations put the jobs of more than 30 million farmers at risk without providing them with any economically viable alternative crops.”

He explained that the tobacco sector also depends on other actors within the value chain; hence all will be negatively affected including layoffs in a country where unemployment is already high.

“The WHO has consistently refused to listen to tobacco growers in drafting the proposals that directly impact Kenya’s farmers and the whole tobacco value chain. By doing so, they act like a blind man driving a steamroller without paying any attention to the consequences of their folly,” he stated.

Wanguhu added that the current proposals go far beyond the FCTC’s original mandate, explaining that the original goals of the FCTC stated that governments should provide: “technical and financial assistance to aid the economic transition of tobacco growers and workers whose livelihoods are seriously affected as a consequence of tobacco control programs.”

He noted that the proposals under consideration currently represent a departure from this goal as they seek to artificially reduce the supply of tobacco without providing growers any viable alternatives to support their families.

“They are designed to force tobacco growers out of business by creating artificial restrictions on tobacco supply while failing to address the growing demand for the crop,” he said.

“This is being done through recommendations that seek to: ban minimum support prices and leaf auctions, restrict production by regulating the seasons in which tobacco can be grown, reduce the area allocated for tobacco farming, ban financial or technical support for tobacco farmers and dismantle all bodies connecting growers with governments,” he explained.

These proposals are known as ‘Articles 17 & 18’ and will be discussed at the Fifth Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP5), which takes place in Seoul, South Korea from November 12 – 17.

All 175 countries who have signed the WHO’s ‘Framework Convention on Tobacco Control’ (FCTC) are eligible to attend the Conference and vote.

Wanguhu emphasised that now is the time for governments to act and oppose these ‘draconian’ measures.

To rally governments worldwide in opposition to the measures, KETOFA joined with the International Tobacco Growers’ Association (ITGA) in the launch of a global campaign, with a petition available online and through growers’ associations.

The petition calls on government leaders in KENYA to, “reject these irrational and destructive proposals in favour of a more realistic approach that will help tobacco farmers adapt if and when the demand for tobacco evolves.”

In East Africa, Kenya leads the way with 40,000 contracted farmers and the Food and Agriculture Organisation says that 7 percent of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) comes from tobacco growing, which translates to Sh5.54 billion ($65 million) in exports.

Uganda has some 75,000 farmers under contract while Tanzania has a high of 95,000 farmers growing tobacco.

In both cases, tobacco contributes five percent of the respective countries’ GDP.

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