Indian farmers appeal to global community for stopping WHO's anti-tobacco agenda

Tobacco is a tough crop that can be grown in harsh conditions and is particularly resistant to drought and rain-fed areas

A plaque with the name and logo of the World Health Organization (photo: IANS)
A plaque with the name and logo of the World Health Organization (photo: IANS)


The Federation of All India Farmer Associations (FAIFA), a non-profit organisation representing the cause of millions of farmers and farm workers involved in commercial crop cultivation in the country, appealed to the global farming community to come together to oppose World Health Organization's (WHO) agenda, 'Grow Food Not Tobacco', which advocates for the replacement of tobacco farming with alternative crops.

Farming is a significant source of employment worldwide and is experiencing robust growth. According to industry estimates, the global general crop farming market expanded from $348.08 billion in 2022 to $381.76 billion in 2023, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.7 per cent. The agricultural sector is thriving and is well segmented to serve human and animal consumption, as well as grow commercial crops. Any attempts by the WHO to disrupt this equilibrium will adversely affect the economic interests of farmers across these various sectors.

FAIFA has emphasized that the WHO agenda primarily revolves around agriculture serving the food industry. However, it is crucial to recognize that agriculture also plays a vital role in supporting other sectors like the medicinal, beauty, and pharmaceutical sectors. Considering the adverse effects of climate change and the reduction in cultivated land, it becomes imperative to strike a balance that benefits all industries as well as farmers attached to these industries and not just focus on food cultivation.

Furthermore, FAIFA has called upon the global farming communities to question the WHO assertion that tobacco crops have a detrimental impact on sustainable agriculture and contribute to the global food crisis. FAIFA has emphasized that tobacco farming accounts for only 0.25 per cent of cultivated land on a global scale. The organization asserts that the scale of tobacco production is not a substantial threat to food security when compared to other agricultural practices.

FAIFA has highlighted its own experience, which resulted in unsuccessful attempts to substitute tobacco with alternative crops, causing substantial losses for farmers. Moreover, FAIFA believes that agriculture is not an area that the WHO should be involved in. Considering this, FAIFA urges farmer organisations to come together and fight unitedly against vested interests who are trying to destroy livelihoods and putting the future generation at risk and to make representations to their respective governments, urging them to intervene and communicate to WHO that they should focus on health issues and leave the agriculture sector to the agriculture experts to take appropriate steps.

Mr. Javare Gowda, President, FAIFA, said: "Historically, WHO was formed as well as funded by nation states. However, in recent times, the organization has also started receiving funding from non-state actors like private trusts which have linkages with private corporations. This vested interest agenda is disturbing the livelihood of global farmers and there is no in-depth study on successful alternative crops in similar agroclimatic regions. Hence, it is imperative for the global farmer community to come together and mount a protest against WHO."

The WHO has not conducted any large-scale experiments or studies to establish that tobacco can be switched with equally remunerative alternatives in the same agroclimatic and soil conditions. This absence of rigorous research raises concerns about the agenda being pursued by WHO.

Mr. Murali Babu, General Secretary, FAIFA, said: "We fail to understand why WHO is trying to influence the global supply chain for agricultural crops. It makes one wonder if there is an agenda WHO is driving on behalf of vested interests. They should stick to their work of public health and understand that tobacco is also a legal crop and product across the world. Even in WHO's own FCTC it is recommended that tobacco consumption has to be controlled without hurting livelihoods."

Articles 17 and 18 of the WHO's FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) states that "in order to find economically sustainable alternatives to tobacco growing, not only income and crop profitability but all aspects of farmers livelihood needs to be addressed".

The aim is to mitigate the adverse impact on farmers while promoting sustainable agricultural practices and supporting their well-being.

Tobacco is a tough crop that can be grown in harsh conditions and is particularly resistant to drought and rain-fed areas.

Moreover, the tobacco farmer maintains a balance with nature as tobacco crops are grown in rotation with other crops, but WHO through its recommendations is destroying that balance.

Given this context, FAIFA has questioned a science-based organisation like WHO for recommending an unscientific direction to grow alternative crops on semi-arid lands, where even a drought-resistant crop like tobacco is facing challenges due to climate change.

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