GENEVA, 27th May, 2023 (WAM) – With hunger spreading worldwide and tobacco responsible for eight million deaths each year, countries should stop subsidizing tobacco crops and help farmers grow food, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.
Ahead of World No Tobacco Day on Wednesday 31st May, 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.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that governments across the world “spend millions supporting tobacco farms”, and that choosing to grow food instead of tobacco would allow the world to “prioritize health, preserve ecosystems, and strengthen food security for all”.
The agency’s new report, “Grow food, not tobacco”, recalls that a record 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 per cent in the last decade.
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.
WHO, along with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (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 programme provides farmers with microcredit lending to pay off their debts with tobacco companies, as well as knowledge and training to grow alternative crops, and a market for their harvest, thanks to WFP’s local procurement initiatives.