WHO encourages farmers to grow food instead of tobacco

Ahead of World No Tobacco Day on Wednesday, the WHO said it had partnered with other UN agencies to support farmers looking to switch from growing tobacco to growing food.

The World Health Organization said on Friday it was helping growing numbers of farmers shift away from tobacco to help boost food security, particularly in Africa.

Ahead of World No Tobacco Day on Wednesday, the WHO said it had partnered with other UN agencies to support farmers wanting to switch from growing tobacco to growing food.

The pilot project of the program in Kenya proved successful and now the UN wants to export it to other countries and continents.

“A record 349 million people face acute food insecurity, up from 135 million in 2019,” Ruediger Krech, director of health promotion at WHO, told reporters in Geneva.

“Then we have 124 countries that grow tobacco as a cash crop, covering about 3.2 million hectares of land. About 200,000 hectares of land are cleared each year for tobacco cultivation.”

Beyond its effects on the health of smokers and farmers, tobacco growing poses a food security problem, according to the WHO.

The UN health agency is concerned that tobacco companies are increasingly establishing themselves in Africa, with a nearly 20% increase in tobacco plantations across the continent since 2005.

“It is often said that growing tobacco is so important to economic growth. It’s a myth that we need to dispel urgently,” Krech said.

He said it accounts for just over one percent of gross domestic product in five countries: Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and North Macedonia.

“So the profits go to the global tobacco companies.”

– Addiction ‘trap’ –

The WHO accuses the tobacco industry of locking farmers into a “dependency cycle”, leaving them little control over product prices and quality.

“They’re trapped. They have to pay off the debt before they can stop big tobacco work,” Krech said.

Three UN agencies – the WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Food Program – have set up a credit scheme to help farmers pay off their debts from the industry tobacco and change their culture.

The program was launched in Migori County in southwestern Kenya, where 2,040 farmers were assisted in the first year.

“We were really positively surprised to see so much interest,” Krech said.

“But they saw it was a viable alternative,” tripling profits.

“They have already switched to growing high-iron beans. This shift from farming has also allowed children to go to school instead of growing tobacco.

“Warning, 1.3 million children work in the tobacco fields.”

Krech said the concept has proven successful in the first year and he hopes to have around 5,000 farmers on board – 4,000 in Kenya and 1,000 in Zambia – by the end of the next season.

“From there we will move to other countries in Asia and South America, because that’s where the big tobacco growth is still happening,” he said.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement: “Tobacco is responsible for eight million deaths a year, yet governments around the world spend millions to support tobacco plantations.

“By choosing to grow food over tobacco, we are prioritizing health, preserving ecosystems and enhancing food security for all.”


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