African farmers praise COMESA’s commitment to protect jobs

The International Tobacco Growers’ Association (ITGA) today thanked the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) on behalf of millions of African farmers for recognising tobacco farming as “one of the major sources of employment, foreign exchange earnings and an important business base” in the region.

The communiqué off the 16th summit of the COMESA authority of heads of state and government issued on 24 November following its meeting in Kampala, Uganda, also called for a more balanced approach to tobacco regulation.

Francois van der Merwe, Global President of ITGA welcomed the firm stance taken by the COMESA delegates. “The ITGA has fought long and hard against the absurd proposals by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC),which was attempting to force farmers out of growing tobacco leaf without providing any viable alternatives. It is good to know we have the support of COMESA behind us.”

At the summit, COMESA urged WHO member states “to consider the balance between public health, fiscal policy and agriculture realities” when deliberating the FCTC proposals. It called for “evidence-based assessment of economically sustainable alternative livelihoods to tobacco cultivation in consultation with all impacted stakeholders including growers, key tobacco producing countries, tobacco merchants and manufacturers”.

The FCTC working group’s lack of consultation with farmers and their associations has been an on-going concern of the ITGA. “ITGA fully supports COMESA’s decision to uphold and respect tobacco farmers’ rights to be consulted on FCTC measures,” said Van der Merwe. “This is what we have been asking for all along. Viable alternative crops to tobacco will never materialise without close consultation with farmers and their communities and it is critical they are involved in any discussions that stand to impact their livelihoods.”

A recent study conducted by the acclaimed independent economists NKC that looked into the tobacco value chain in 15 African countries, determined that in the COMESA states alone more than 17.76-million people are reliant on the tobacco sector for employment or household income. It also found that tax revenues for the Common Market generated by the tobacco value chain were valued at $3.79bn during 2011 and that its exports of tobacco and related products totaled $1.49bn in the same year.

Van der Merwe said the NKC study was hard evidence that the tobacco value chain was far more important to Africa than had hitherto been recognised and was a wake-up call for the FCTC working group. “We can see from these numbers that the impact of the working group if its proposals had been approved would be disastrous. COMESA’s stand is to be applauded. This is a good week for African tobacco farmers,” he added. “Common sense and pragmatism at last have prevailed.”