ITGA barking up the wrong tree

7 April 2018:

Last week, (27 March 2018) the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) flew a selected few farmers from four countries to its Asian Tobacco Forum in Lombok, Indonesia, to spin a positive view on tobacco cultivation. The ITGA, which is funded by the large transnational tobacco companies, is a well-known “Front” for lobbying third world countries.

Indonesia, a tobacco friendly country and a non-party to the WHO FCTC, is a popular location for this ITGA initiated forum. Participants included farmers from Azerbaijan, India, Indonesia and the Philippines, as well as officials from the Indonesian NTB Agriculture and Plantation Office. The event was hosted by local tobacco front group, AMTI, a vocal opponent of tobacco control measures in Indonesia.

The forum’s declaration released to the press predictably referred to destruction of the livelihood of millions of families of tobacco growers because of tobacco control measures and the need to protect farmers, but was silent on the 7 million who die every year due to tobacco related diseases and the many sick millions suffering silently.

The declaration latched to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) claiming tobacco was a ‘profitable plant’ and hence met SDG #1 to eradicate poverty and that it also fulfilled SDG #2 which aims to end hunger.

This is a cruel twist to the reality because the evidence in Indonesia demonstrates tobacco use aggravates poverty and that 10 percent of poorest families waste a significant part of their income on cigarettes. The Forum participants chose to ignore SDG #3 which calls for the implementation of the WHO FCTC to reduce tobacco use.

The AMTI chairman appealed to the UNDP to recognise the plight of tobacco farmers, but he knows better that the UNDP has a clear policy on tobacco. Press reports don’t indicate if AMTI and the Ministry of Agriculture officials in attendance made participants aware that 2 percent of excise tax from tobacco, which works out to trillions of rupiah every year, is given to assist tobacco growers and workers. Similarly in the Philippines, 15 percent of tobacco tax goes towards assisting farmers growing Virginia tobacco.

Both AMTI and ITGA are loyal allies of the tobacco companies. The AMTI Chairman reiterated their commitment to Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) in tobacco growing, that they take various measures to improve agricultural techniques to be more sustainable and environmentally-friendly. The GAP is a Philip Morris International (PMI) initiated programme.

The Chief Executive of ITGA, Antonio Abrunhosa, who has routinely provided misinformation about the WHO FCTC, continued in the same vein at this Forum. He lamented that there are no success stories of alternate crops replacing tobacco, a typical example of misinformation, ignoring how Malaysian tobacco growers have long shifted to kenaf and there are numerous other success stories from Indonesia, Philippines and India. See here and here

The ITGA is barking up the wrong tree. Abrunhosa wants comprehensive measures taken to ensure protection of tobacco and tobacco products. He should really take this matter to his funders – PMI that has launched a billion dollar initiative to “accelerate theend of smoking and tackle the consequences for tobacco farmers”.

Tobacco control has not displaced tobacco farmers. The biggest threat to tobacco farmers is the tobacco industry itself which exploits them by paying low prices for leaves, exposes them to harmful farming practices and benefits from child labour.