Over 1.7 lakh farmers from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, who grow the lucrative Flue Cure Virginia (FCV), have asked for representation in the upcoming WHO framework convention on tobacco control (FCTC) in South Korea during November 12-17.
FCV is the finest quality of tobacco used in cigarettes. Only health ministry officials have been invited to the FCTC meeting that seeks to reduce tobacco crop size across the globe. India, being signatory to the WHO FCTC, has committed to reduce the crop size so that a large chunk of agricultural land used for tobacco production could be used for grain production.
?In the absence of representatives from tobacco industry and farmers association, FCTC meet may not articulate the interest of farmers who should not be forced to shift to alternate crop without providing proper rehabilitation programme,? G Kamala Vardhana Rao, chairman of the Tobacco Board, told FE.
In a letter written to agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, Magunta Sreenivasulu Reddy, MP from the tobacco region of Ongole (Andhra Pradesh), stated that ?previous Indian delegation to FCTC have been represented by the health ministry only. As matters related to farmers are to be discussed in the conference of the parties (COP), it is important that as stakeholders, their interests be represented?.
?India is among the largest tobacco growing countries in the world. Other major tobacco growing countries such as Brazil, China, Turkey and Zimbabwe have taken into account farmers? interests by ensuring that their delegations to the COP included representatives from finance and agriculture ministries and respective tobacco boards,? he said.
FCV growers said theshifting to alternate crops is not a viable option as FCV?s demand are rising steadily.
The crop size for FCV, which is grown under the supervision of the Tobacco Board, has declined to 2.2 lakh hectare during 2011-12, from 2.5 lakh hectare three years back. The production has declined from 300 million kg to 266 million kg during the same period.
Due to lower output in the Brazil, the world’s biggest producer of FCV tobacco and India’s key competitor in the global market, the demand for the Indian FCV has increased this season.
The government earned central excise revenue by selling cigarettes to the tune of R13,500 crore and foreign exchange of R4,200 crore from exports of tobacco and tobacco products during 2011-12.
Agriculture ministry officials said there is reluctance on the part of tobacco farmers to shift to other crops is understandable due to a well established support system provided by the Tobacco Board since 1985 to registered farmers.
Articles 6, 17 and 18 of FCTC that deal with taxation and crop reduction are of particular concern to the tobacco growers in India.
?While price and tax measures are aimed at reducing the demand for tobacco products, it would result in an increase in proliferation of smuggled tobacco and border trade which would significantly reduce the demand for Indian tobacco products and the livelihood of tobacco farmers would be deeply impacted. It is important that a representative of Tobacco Board is present to defend the interests of tobacco farmers.?
An official in the Andhra Pradesh agriculture department said many tobacco farmers have shifted to other crops such as Bengal gram (chickpea), cotton and jowar (sorghum). The Tobacco Board plans to reduce crop size every year by around 5%.