India, being the signatory to the WHO framework convention on tobacco control (FCTC), has committed to reduce the size of tobacco crop gradually. Tobacco Board, under the commerce ministry, supervises the cultivation of lucrative Flue Cured Virginia (FCV is used in cigarettes), which is mostly grown in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Orissa. On the eve of No-Tobacco Day, G Kamala Vardhana Rao, chairman, Tobacco Board, spoke to Sandip Das on the issue of limiting the crop size.
Would you throw some light on the progress of the implementation of WHO FCTC, as per which India is committed to reduce tobacco crop size?
The mandate of Tobacco Board as per the Tobacco Board Act 1975 is overall development of tobacco industry in India and one of the important functions of the Tobacco Board is to regulate production of FCV tobacco as per the demand and ensure fair and remunerative price to tobacco growers without wide fluctuations in the prices. Accordingly, the board decides the crop size of FCV tobacco, considering various factors like demand and supply situation in domestic and international markets, carryover stocks, trends in cigarette production and consumption.
As such any decision to regulate tobacco shall also coincide with safeguarding the interests of tobacco growers. Moreover, supply side provisions of WHO-FCTC and crop substitution cannot be implemented straightaway without providing alternative employment to thousands of farmers and farm labour dependent on tobacco cultivation. Alternative crops need to be identified and popularised among growers and financial packages to wean out tobacco growers are to be formulated and implemented.
During the last five years, what had been Tobacco Board’s approach on discouraging farmers from growing tobacco?
We have stopped registration of farmers wanting to take up tobacco crop. We have 1.6 lakh farmers registered with us and many are willing to surrender their permission to grow tobacco. Due to global surplus resulting in decline in the prices, we have reduced the crop size this year to 2.2 lakh hectare against 2.5 lakh hectare reported three years back.
The annual production of FCVs have reduced to 240 million kg this year from 300 million kgs in 2008.