THE tobacco industry in Zambia is exploiting local farmers by encouraging them to cultivate the crop and then intentionally keep prices too low for the tobacco companies to make huge profits, says Tobacco Free Association of Zambia (TOFAZ) executive director Brenda Chitindi.
Ms Chitindi said as a result the tobacco industry was contributing to the poor farmers’ debt cycle and poverty.
She called on the Government to provide such farmers with support to grow alternative crops as major players in the industry only cared about profits by neglecting the welfare of farmers and tobacco farm labourers.
She was speaking ahead of the international Conference of the Parties (COP7) to be held in New Delhi, India, in November, where parties to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) will meet to discuss implementation of the treaty.
“The tobacco industry has exploited farmers in Zambia and around the world by encouraging them to cultivate tobacco leaves and then intentionally keep prices too low to be profitable.
“These low prices undermine farmers’ bargaining power, causing them to fall into a cycle of debt that perpetuates poverty,” she said.
In a statement, Ms Chitindi said tobacco was not only a health hazard and the leading cause of the death of about six million people annually around the world but that farmers could also suffer from tobacco-related debilitating diseases such as cancer, heart and lung disease.
Ms Chiti said that tobacco farmers were exposed to cumulative seasonal exposure to nicotine absorbed through the skin which was equivalent to smoking at least 180 cigarettes as well as low salaries.
“Though the tobacco industry claims to have the best interest of Zambia’s farmers in mind, the reality is that the tobacco industry values only its own profits – often at the expense of our farmers. In Zambia tobacco farmers often live in extreme poverty, bound to the potentially deadly life of tobacco farming, without viable alternatives,” she said.
The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is the world’s only international public health treaty, and has 178 parties, Zambia included, representing almost 90 percent of the world’s population.
It obligates countries to implement proven methods to reduce tobacco use, including smoke-free public places and indiscriminate advertisement.