Move To Ban Tobacco Cultivation Questioned

by Ifham Nizam

Despite both the  Ceylon Tobacco Company PLC (CTC) and its tobacco farmers being key drivers of national and rural economic growth, neither party was consulted before the intention to ban tobacco cultivation in 2020 was announced, a spokesperson of the CTC said.

Speaking to the Sunday Leader, the spokesperson said that as a responsible tobacco company, CTC supports reasonable regulations that are consultative, evidence-based and delivers policy objectives while respecting the legal rights of a legal business, selling a legal product.

“We therefore urge policy makers to adopt measures that meet public health objectives while enabling the legal industry to conduct its business. Considering the above, CTC on behalf of the 30,000 farmers whose lives depend on this crop requests the Government to re-think its proposal to ban the cultivation of tobacco from 2020 and to secure the livelihoods of the local tobacco farmer community,” the spokesperson stressed.

Minister of Health Dr. Rajitha Senaratne last week announced in parliament that tobacco cultivation will be banned in Sri Lanka from 2020.

The Sunday Leader learns that this announcement was made in the back drop of a report prepared in 2015, by the Presidential Task Force on Drug Prevention (PTF), which contained several recommendations including the banning of tobacco cultivation in paddy lands and the denial of all irrigation facilities and concessions to farmers involved in tobacco growing.

Following this report, in 2016, the President announced that tobacco cultivation would be banned in 2020. Following appeals by the farming community the Government then announced that a programme would be implemented to introduce tobacco farmers to alternative crops that would give the same economic benefits.

However, the Government is yet to provide a viable solution to tobacco farmers and despite this, intends to ban tobacco cultivation in Sri Lanka.

 

CTC on the Govt. ban

The spokesperson said that CTC is the only legal manufacturer of cigarettes in Sri Lanka.

CTC sources its entire tobacco leaf requirement from local farmers, thereby creating employment opportunities to more than 20,000 people and saving valuable foreign exchange on importing leaf.

In addition to the farmers that supply tobacco to CTC there are around 10,000 more involved in growing tobacco for other products. In total tobacco cultivation supports the livelihoods over around 300,000 persons across the island.

“By being self-sufficient in tobacco leaf production, the Company is able to pass on the savings on imports to the local farmer community, thereby infusing nearly Rs. 2 billion into the rural economy annually,” the spokesperson added.

Through its interventions and support, CTC ensures that tobacco cultivation is burden free to the state. Tobacco farmers are considered more credit worthy by financial institutions in the country and tobacco cultivation is known to promote employment generation and socio-economic progress in cultivation areas.

Farmers that partner with CTC are guaranteed a competitive price at the start of the growing season and guaranteed the purchase of the full crop harvested. In addition to this, the Company also provides unique support facilities such as:

a) Providing all required agricultural inputs, valued at over Rs. 140 million, for the crop on a credit basis annually;

 

b) Providing free agricultural extension services and on the ground, technical support continuously via 35 leaf field officers;

 

c) Maintaining a Grower Pension Scheme, managed by farmer associations, where farmers are eligible to withdraw savings after 55 years;

 

d) Aiding farmers through phased out loan recovery in the event of a natural disaster;

 

e) Awarding scholarships for farmer’s Children to pursue higher education; and

 

f) Organising overseas training programmes for the tobacco farmers.

 

Tobacco farmers use less than 0.1 per cent of the country’s total arable land (2,500 Ha) for cultivation and have continuously reduced their land dependency through year on year yield improvements achieved under guidance and support of the Ceylon Tobacco Company.

Cultivation is carried out under close supervision of the Department of Agriculture in limited extents in Polonaruwa, Anuradhapura, Ampara, Badulla, Matale, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Kurunegala Districts.

More than 80 per cent of CTC’s tobacco leaf requirement is grown during the “Yala” season when the farmers have no alternative but to grow a cash crop for the lack of adequate water essential for Paddy.

Moreover, the water requirement for tobacco cultivation is 1/7th that of paddy. Tobacco farmers use soil conservation techniques such as Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT) and use compost produced from tobacco dust as organic fertiliser.

Through CTC’s interventions, they also place a high level of focus on biodiversity and environmental protection through Sustainable Tobacco Production (STP) and notably use paddy husk as fuel in curing barns, eliminating the use of firewood. Going above and beyond its call of duty, the Company has also encouraged tobacco farmers to grow alternate field crops alongside Tobacco, under the SADP-Ultra programme, investing over Rs. 10 million to provide seeds, over the past five years. Accordingly, farmers receive support to grow tobacco along with maize, ground nut and b-onions.

When the PTF report was initially released, it resulted in unlawful enforcements by activists and government officials who pressurised tobacco farmers to abandon cultivation. Following an appeal by farmers to the President, a decision was made to implement an alternative crop programme to help tobacco farmers to transition to other cash crops and to allow farmers to continue to cultivate tobacco until 2020.

However, the Government has failed to implement such a programme. As such farmers, have informed CTC that they are unwilling to give up tobacco cultivation, a crop that assures significant and sustainable socio-economic benefits unmatched by other crops, the spokesperson said .

“We would also like to bring to your notice that no country where tobacco is currently being grown, has implemented such a ban.

Even Bangladesh, is only considering the implementation of a cultivation ban in 2040, allowing tobacco farmers ample time to find alternative livelihoods and for the government to put in place an alternative crop programme.”

She added that unfortunately, this is not the case in Sri Lanka.In the event the ban is implemented; CTC would be forced to import its tobacco leaf requirement benefiting farmers from neighbouring countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh at the expense of our local tobacco farmers.

As a responsible tobacco company, CTC supports reasonable regulations that are consultative, evidence-based and delivers policy objectives while respecting the legal rights of a legal business, selling a legal product.

“We therefore urge policy makers to adopt measures that meet public health objectives while enabling the legal industry to conduct its business.

Considering the above, CTC on behalf of the 30,000 farmers whose lives depend on this crop requests the Government to re-think its proposal to ban the cultivation of tobacco from 2020 and to secure the livelihoods of the local tobacco farmer community,” the spokesperson stressed.

When contacted, Health Ministry officials said that despite their policy initiatives they had not taken a concrete decision as yet. However, they said  the anti tobacco lobby is keen on the matter, citing environmental impacts due to tobacco cultivation.

It is understood that plans are underway to take up the matter with various stakeholders especially tobacco cultivators and CTC officials.

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