Indian tobacco farmers wary of ensuing diktat

Agonised tobacco farmers looking at India’s WHO FCTC meet with hope

Business & Politics

News - India & You

October 14, 2016

/ By / Kolkata

With the Supreme Court’s determined ban on all forms of chewable tobacco and nicotine, the Government is reportedly in the process of formulating tobacco control policies, as the country gears up to host its first World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in November; farmers anticipate falling in the blind spot of policy formulation.

Plantations in Virginia

Plantations in Virginia

The question of livelihood arises as millions of tobacco farmers in India apprehensively wait for the changes that will be inculcated after the WHO FCTC COP7 meet that is scheduled to take place from November 7 to 12, this year. The protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products is an international treaty to address the increasing illegal trade in tobacco products. Based on Article 15 of the FCTC (WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control), parties to this convention intend to work towards elimination of all forms of illicit trade in tobacco products, including smuggling, illicit manufacturing and counterfeiting, and the development and implementation of related national laws, in addition to sub regional, regional and global agreements. India’s stance as a host for the convention remains to be seen.

Second largest producer of Tobacco

With 13 states growing the crop, and an estimated 800 million kg produced annually, India is the world’s second largest producer of tobacco. India’s consumption of tobacco is particularly peculiar. Only 11 pc of tobacco consumption is through legal cigarettes. The rest of the consumption happens through products like chewing tobacco, bidis, khaini, illegal cigarettes etc. whereas in the rest of the world, tobacco consumption is almost synonymous to cigarettes comprising a stark 90 pc in contrast. Over the last three decades, the consumption of cigarettes in the country have been estimated to have dropped from 21 pc in 1981-82 to the current 11 pc. Simultaneously the overall tobacco consumption in the country has increased by 38 pc. This drop in legal cigarettes is reflected in the shift to the illegal cigarette and the unorganized sectors of the industry.
Federation of All India Farmer Associations (FAIFA) spoke dismally about anticipated ad hoc decisions in a written appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking for an inclusion of the tobacco farmers in the official Indian delegation at the WHO FCTC COP7 meet. FAIFA has also sent out an appeal to the WHO FCTC Secretariat requesting an observer status for the farmers.

Tobacco that will be sliced into flakes

Tobacco that can be sliced into flakes

The plea to policy makers for the promotion of balanced regulations for the safeguarding of interests and livelihood of millions of small farmers and rural workers finds its roots in the ambition of a democratic and participative approach to the formulation of the Indian delegation at the convention. The appeal has, reportedly, also been submitted to the Health Ministry, Agriculture Ministry and Finance Ministry among others.

The AIBIF (All India Bidi Industry Federation) is another tobacco body that has pled for a representation of the farmers at the convention, stating that the importance of the participation for highlighting the counterfeit tobacco trade in the country has not been realised by the government yet.

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  1. Avatar Vasanthkumar Mysoremath says:

    Six million deaths a year is not a joke. Hardly one million people are dependent on tobacco farming & work in industry but they are still alive and can pursue alternate cropping and jobs if tobacco cultivation is banned for the sake of health of the people who have become victims of lies and half truths about the safety of tobacco products.. Tobacco farmers are really not making money, they are for ever under debt from financial institutions who lend money at the farmers’ door step and recover the same when sales are made and money is credited to their bank accounts. This is being encouraged by some of the Governments in the world (example: India – more than 40 per cent of agricultural loans were extended to tobacco growers in 2015 in Mysore District) who are signatories to the FCTC protocol but continue to encourage tobacco farming by supplying subsidized inputs like fertilisers, implements, marketing, hi-tech facilities for auctioning tobacco bales and a host of other facilities and amenities to tobacco farmers. In addition, COP7 may like to consider how and why Government of India insurance companies have huge investment portfolios in tobacco companies by investing public money. Further Members of Indian Parliament regularly participate in events organised by Indian Tobacco Board and other tobacco farmers associations/federations which is against FCTC guidelines. While many countries are contemplating withdrawing all such Government investments in tobacco industry, many other countries are dithering in their decision making. The all powerful tobacco industry continue to make profit year after year by being highly aggressive and thwarting all WHO efforts to contain the tobacco epidemic. COP7 may like to take note of these duality of purpose being adopted by some countries and warn them that they are either here or there. Indian Penal Code 299 lays down – culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Can this be made applicable and a case booked against the Indian Government since the government is levying taxes, duties and other levies on tobacco products and has become a partner under 299. Government is not directly killing people but it is encouraging tobacco farmers to grow tobacco, a killer crop, to be cultivated under Government licence, procuring legally grown or illegally grown for auctioning under the Tobacco Board regulation, allowed to be processed and products marketed even in remotest corners of India.

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