NEW YORK – The World Health Organization (WHO) new report, “Grow food, not tobacco”, has recalled that around 349 million people are facing acute food insecurity, many of them in some 30 countries on the African continent, where tobacco cultivation has increased by 15 percent in the last decade.
Ahead of World No Tobacco Day on May 31, WHO deplored that 3.2 million hectares of fertile land across 124 countries are being used to grow deadly tobacco -- even in places where people are starving.
With hunger spreading worldwide and tobacco responsible for eight million deaths each year, countries should stop subsidizing tobacco crops and help farmers grow food.
According to WHO, nine of the 10 largest tobacco cultivators are low and middle-income countries. Tobacco farming compounds these countries’ food security challenges by taking up arable land. The environment and the communities which rely on it also suffer, as the crop’s expansion drives deforestation, contamination of water sources and soil degradation.
The report also exposes the tobacco industry for trapping farmers in a vicious cycle of dependence and exaggerating the economic benefits of tobacco as a cash crop.
Dr. Rüdiger Krech, WHO Director for Health Promotion, said the crop contributes less than 1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in most tobacco-growing countries and that the profit go to the world’s major cigarette-makers.
WHO, along with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP), have joined forces around the Tobacco Free Farms initiative to help thousands of farmers in countries like Kenya and Zambia to grow sustainable food crops instead of tobacco.
The program provides farmers with microcredit lending to pay off their debts with tobacco companies, knowledge and training to grow alternative crops, and a market for their harvest, thanks to WFP’s local procurement initiatives. (WAM)