FCTC – A Threat to Livelihood

The Framework Convention on Tobacco control (FCTC) is the international treaty negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO). The FCTC was adopted at the 56th World Health Assembly on May 21, 2003 and it came into force on February 27, 2005.

Read TII Handbook WHO FCTC Proposals A Threat to the Livelihood of Tobacco Farmers in India

The stated objective of the FCTC is to provide “a framework for tobacco control measures to be implemented by the Parties at the national, regional and international levels in order to reduce continually and substantially the prevalence of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke.”

Key FCTC Recommendations having Adverse Impact in India

  • Denial of access for consultation and interaction with policymakers Article 5.3
  • Excessively high taxation on legal tobacco products Article 6
  • Regulation & disclosure of tobacco product contents Article 9&10
  • Adoption of Illicit Trade Protocol seeking track & trace mechanism for tobacco product supply chain Article 15
  • Forcing farmers away from tobacco cultivation without there being any feasible alternative crop Article 17

However, going much beyond the stated FCTC objective, to which signatory nations have subscribed, the WHO Chief, Director General Dr. Margaret Chan, has urged coordinated global action to drive the tobacco industry, a legal enterprise employing and providing livelihood to millions around the world, out of business. Ms. Chan has gone on record to state, “it’s going to be a tough fight…… (but) we should not give up until we make sure that the tobacco industry goes out of business.” World Conference on Tobacco or Health’ (Abu Dhabi, March 18, 2015).

It is important to understand that the objective of “pushing the tobacco industry out of business” cannot be an isolated targeting of cigarette companies alone. Any initiative pursued in this direction through extreme Proposals and Guidelines by the FCTC will have an impact on the entire tobacco value chain from tobacco farmers and farm workers to small, self-employed retailers.

There is a vast livelihood dependency of 45.7 million people on tobacco in India and huge socio-economic importance of tobacco cultivation to the country. It follows that any tobacco control policy recommended by the FCTC that threatens the livelihood of such a large number of Indians can lead to major social unrest particularly in the rural areas.

It is important for the Indian Government to take cognizance of the fact that Tobacco Control regulations recommended by the FCTC are not binding on countries. The FCTC Guidelines allow National Governments to adopt a flexible approach in policy adoption considering their local conditions and domestic priorities.

A convention like the FCTC merely serves as guidelines that may be taken into consideration while framing such policies. The guiding principles of FCTC itself states, “… take into consideration local culture, as well as social, economic, political and legal factors……”

Mere ratification of the FCTC by any country does not create legal obligations on national governments. It is for the Parliament to consider the guidelines contained in the FCTC whilst framing law. Only those provisions of FCTC which have been specifically incorporated by the Parliament through a suitable legislation can be binding on the people of this Country.

Excessive and unreasonable FCTC proposals are being driven by anti-tobacco activists at the behest of vested interests. These proposals could wipe out the livelihood of millions of tobacco growers in many countries such as India where cultivation of tobacco has huge socio-economic importance. It is unfortunate, that the challenges faced by farmers and farm workers in rural areas and other ground realities are completely ignored by the FCTC.

In fact, several important tobacco producing countries viz. Malawi, Tanzania, Indonesia etc. have not signed the FCTC. Other leading producers, USA and Argentina, though having signed the treaty, have not ratified it. However, India was one of the earliest signatories to the FCTC and also the 8th country to have ratified it in February 2004 despite the huge livelihood implication as the second largest tobacco growing country in the world and the 45.7 million livelihood dependency on tobacco.

FCTC recommendations on diverse issues such as Agricultural Practices, Tobacco Product Content Regulation & Disclosure, Denial of Access for Consultation to tobacco industry, Benchmarked Taxation etc. have very tangible real life implications for farmers and others dependent on tobacco for their livelihood. Such restrictions on tobacco cultivation and the legal tobacco industry can only be at the cost of the Indian economy and to the benefit of other tobacco growing countries and illegal trade in cigarettes.

It is also a matter of concern that the FCTC process has become increasingly undemocratic and non-transparent with decisions made behind closed doors, and media, the public and tobacco growers explicitly excluded from the deliberations. In fact, it is ironic that tobacco farmers, farmer organizations and other stakeholders who are directly affected by FCTC proposals/decisions are deliberately kept out of the FCTC Conference of the Parties (COP).

The non-transparent manner in which the FCTC COP sessions are conducted defy international norms and standards that should govern the conduct of international organizations including bodies established under the FCTC and the WHO. The ‘Guidance Note of the Secretary-General (UN Secretary General) on Democracy’ very clearly enunciates that “Popular participation, collective deliberation and political equality are essential to democracy, and should be realized through a framework and structure of accessible, representative, transparent and accountable institutions subject to periodic change or renewal.”

In fact, Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, under whose auspices the FCTC COP Meetings are held, at the Measurement and Accountability for Results Health Summit, Washington, DC, USA, 9 June 2015 has gone on record to pronounce that “In this day and age, where transparency is such a big commodity, there is no other option but to have transparency and accountability…. The emphasis on transparency, accountability, and measureable results is increasing every day.” Dr. Chan’s statement above reinforces the UN principles of transparency, democratic processes and participation.

It is vital that tobacco experts and relevant bodies with the requisite technical knowledge on tobacco growing be allowed to participate in FCTC discussions in order to safeguard the legitimate interests of tobacco growers and other Industry stakeholders.

The Indian Government should not get swayed by the propaganda of the international NGOs who under the misguided notion that FCTC Guidelines are mandatory on the Indian Policy Makers, campaign for unreasonable regulations and should instead promote a balanced approach towards tobacco control regulations. India should also ensure that unreasonable and impractical proposals and guidelines which will have devastating impact on tobacco farmers and millions of others who are dependent on tobacco for their livelihood are not adopted by the FCTC.

Indian Government should leave its footprint on global tobacco policy by promoting balanced regulations that include the interests and livelihoods of millions of small farmers and rural workers across the world.

FCTC Not Mandatory on Indian Govt.

Various tobacco control activists and NGOs backed by overseas vested interest continue to wage a relentless campaign to influence Tobacco Control Policies in the country and promote a false propaganda that the Indian Government is obligated under the FCTC to implement all provisions of the FCTC and introduce further regulations in the country which are excessive in nature and inimical to tobacco cultivation and the tobacco farming community. This premise is not only seriously flawed but is also legally untenable.

Sovereign powers of the Parliament, which includes the power to implement international treaties and agreements, cannot be delegated. The idea that FCTC can be ‘implemented’ at all is based on an erroneous understanding of the FCTC. The FCTC is not a binding document — it does not create any obligation for signatory nations to implement provisions of the Treaty. It is for the Indian Parliament to consider the guidelines contained in the FCTC whilst framing law. Only those provisions of FCTC which have been specifically incorporated by the Parliament through a suitable legislation can be binding on the people of this Country.

The operating Tobacco Control law in India is the Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act 2003 (COTPA) and all regulations in this regard must be within the purview and framework of this Act of the Indian Parliament. Despite Indian having a comprehensive tobacco control law, anti-tobacco NGOs are misusing FCTC to propagate unreasonable policies and are citing FCTC in litigations to pressurize Indian Policy Makers.

It is for each country to evolve its own policy in the light of the unique conditions such as the economic importance of the crop; health needs; the extent of dependence on a particular industry; revenue generation etc. prevalent in that country. A convention like the FCTC merely serves as guidelines that may be taken into consideration while framing such policies. The guiding principles of FCTC itself states, “… take into consideration local culture, as well as social, economic, political and legal factors……” in implementing provisions of the FCTC. The model of other countries where the economic significance of tobacco is low cannot be followed in India.

It is incumbent on the Government to consider the views of all citizens, including the stakeholders – the persons that would be directly affected by a proposed law. The FCTC is a treaty negotiated under the auspices of World Health Organisation that is recommendatory in nature. The parties to the treaty are free to decide the scope of their tobacco control framework. FCTC is not the law of the land.

Therefore, the Government of India should formulate tobacco control policies within the framework of the law i.e. COTPA passed by the supreme law-making institution of the country which is the Indian Parliament. India’s tobacco regulations should be specifically adapted to the conditions prevailing in the country so that they do not jeopardize the livelihood of millions who are engaged in the tobacco industry.

Stakeholders Denied Participation at COP Meetings

Manufacturers, farmers and other Industry stakeholders are denied access to the FCTC deliberations by the organizers and sponsors of the FCTC.

As per the UN recommendations, democratic process is fundamental to all policy making both at an international and at the national level. Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 adopted by the UN General Assembly declared that “Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives” and that “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government”.

Moreover, the Guidance Note of the UN Secretary General on Democracy, while emphasizing the central role of democracy in the fulfilment of the goals of the UN, states that, “UN democracy assistance should aim to support legitimate democratic forces, provide a platform for expression of diverse viewpoints and perspectives, connect these forces to global knowledge and expertise, including south-south collaboration, and nurture a national environment open to transparent and democratic political discourse, transition and change.”

The Guidance Note further goes on to stipulate that, “Efforts should be made by the UN to actively engage with traditionally marginalized and excluded groups………….rather than focus on engaging a small group of likeminded national actors as is often the case.

These emphatic observations show that participation of all constituents and stakeholders, especially those with diverse views or traditionally marginalized voices is a central tenet followed by the United Nations in carrying out its programmes all around the world.

The Conference of Parties organized under the aegis of FCTC which is a framework convention under the World Health Organisation, a UN agency, should therefore, be carried out in an inclusionary manner and in line with the basic tenets of democratic process adopted by the UN.

Further, the Preamble to the FCTC itself recognizes the need to consider the livelihood and economic interests of tobacco growers and workers in implementing its provisions. Throughout the provisions of the FCTC and especially in Articles 6 to 14 which describe various legislative, executive and administrative measures which may be undertaken by Parties, it is explicitly recognized that their implementation is subject to “national law”, “national circumstances and priorities” and can be done only “in accordance with [the] constitution and constitutional principles” of the Parties.

Under the Indian Constitution, any international instrument which contemplates restrictions on the rights of Indian citizens can be given effect to only by law made by Parliament.

This principle, which has been laid down in various decisions of the Supreme Court of India, places the values of democratic process and participatory governance above any international instrument or convention.

NGOs and anti-tobacco activists in India are engaged in waging a huge campaign to influence government’s tobacco control policy and to promote extreme regulations without any appreciation of the socio-economic importance of tobacco in the country and the vast livelihood dependency on the crop. These anti-tobacco groups carry a strong voice during the COP meetings and attempt to impose their biased agenda on the meetings.

It is therefore, important that policy development in this area is not left to the tobacco control activists and NGOs alone. Instead and in order to arrive at balanced and pragmatic position on various proposals and guidelines at the COP Meetings, the Indian Government should engage extensively with the Industry Stakeholders on the FCTC Articles contained in the Conference Agenda and also include Industry Stakeholders and representatives from the Farming Community in the official Indian delegation to the Conference.

This will ensure that the Industry view point on various issues arising out of the Agenda is taken cognizance of and no unilateral and discriminatory one-sided decision is taken by the Parties to the Conference that is inimical to the livelihood of millions dependent on tobacco in India.

Any decision arrived at the COP Meetings unilaterally without taking the views of those that derive their livelihood from tobacco and which is not based on livelihood considerations will have devastating impact on farm incomes and the lives of millions that are dependent on tobacco.

In fact, inclusion of the various stakeholders is crucial to ensure evidence-based, balanced and pragmatic tobacco control policies not only in a global health forum such as the FCTC Conference but also in any national policy-making effort.

Thus, neither the WHO nor the Governments should ignore the crucial role of stakeholders in the policy-making process. This approach acquires special significance in a large tobacco growing and exporting country like India where tobacco is a very important commercial crop providing sustainable living to millions of people and garnering significant revenue and foreign exchange earnings from tobacco.

FCTC Article 5.3 is Arbitrary & Undemocratic

The Guidelines on Article 5.3 of the FCTC are designed to keep the Tobacco Industry out of any consultation with the Government and its various agencies/bodies on Tobacco Control policy regulations and proposals.

The Government of India is under no mandatory obligation to implement any of the provisions or guidelines of the FCTC. The Guidelines of the FCTC are recommendatory in nature and are not binding on a sovereign republic such as India.

Any policy to exclude the tobacco industry and its various stakeholders, from participating in any deliberations of laws and regulations that will inevitably result in the curtailment of their rights is unilateral, arbitrary and against all democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution of India. Moreover, any agreement by the Indian Government to implement the Article 5.3 Guidelines will adversely affect the livelihood of millions of citizens engaged in lawful economic activity.

Various Government agencies in India such as Tobacco Board and Central Tobacco Research Institute (CTRI) are inseparable from the tobacco growers and trade due to their interlinked objectives and organizational mandate. These agencies are inseparable from the growers and trade as they

constantly interact with the tobacco farmers, trade and Industry. This interaction is essential and ensures the protection of the interests of a large number of tobacco farmers in the country.

Further, any attempt to deprive a group of citizens of the right to make representations and to participate in the policy-making process would be inherently unfair, undemocratic and abhorrent to the Constitution of India. Such a recommendation is shocking, and if permitted, would set a precedent for legislatively preventing citizens from voicing their grievances to the Executive concerning proposed law on a legal product and economic activity.

The FCTC nowhere requires the signatories to implement national law to reflect all aspects of FCTC. In fact, the FCTC expressly makes Article 5.3 subject to the law of the respective signatory country.

The Constitution of India does not empower the Union or the States to deny the right to be heard to any industry.

Keeping with the noble principles of democracy and individual rights of citizens enshrined in the Indian Constitution and in recognition of the vast livelihood dependency of millions on tobacco in the country, the Guidelines on Article 5.3 of the FCTC must not be adopted for implementation in India.

FCTC Article 6 Recommendations will
Boost Illegal Cigarette Trade

The guidelines and recommendations for the implementation of FCTC Article 6 overlook the undesirable consequences of high and discriminatory taxation on cigarettes in a country where the bulk of tobacco consumption is in the form of non-cigarette tobacco products which are either lightly taxed or escape taxation. In fact the guidelines will only result in widening the tax gap between cigarettes and other tobacco products and will not even help in achieving the objective of tobacco control in the country.The tobacco consumption pattern in India is unique in that only 11% of total tobacco is consumed in the form of legal Cigarettes. The balance 89% is consumed in other forms of tobacco consumption and illegal cigarettes. This is very different to the rest of the world where more than 90% of the consumption is in the form of cigarettes.

Despite the small consumption share Legal Cigarettes contribute as much as 87% of the overall tax revenue from tobacco. The reason for this distorted pattern of revenue collections is that cigarettes are subjected to high and discriminatory rates of taxation compared to other tobacco products.

It is important to note that steep increases in Excise Duty on cigarettes in recent years have resulted in further widening the differential in Excise Duty collections (on a per kg. of tobacco basis) between cigarettes and other tobacco products from 28 times in 2005-06 to over 51 times currently.

As a result of such discriminatory taxation, legal cigarette’s share of total tobacco consumption in the country has declined from 21% in 1981-82 to 11% currently. Not surprisingly therefore, in the same period overall tobacco consumption in the country has increased by 38%.

Compounding the issue further is the fact that while the legal cigarette industry in India is in the organized sector, has statutory oversight and is completely compliant with all regulations, the bulk of tobacco consumed in the country is largely produced in the unorganized sector which does not have compliance and enforcement. This large unorganized sector (estimated at 68% of overall tobacco consumption) pays little tax either due to tax exemptions or evasion.

The immediate task of the Government should therefore, be to progressively move towards a more uniform taxation regime across all forms of tobacco consumption in the country and to bring the large unorganized sector within the tax net and not tax cigarettes even more. Continued escalation of excise duties on cigarettes will only promote the growth of the low tax and duty-evaded tobacco products in the country.

Quite contrary to such an approach successively over the last 5 years, the incidence of Central Excise Duty on cigarettes, at a per unit level, has gone up cumulatively by 118% much higher than the cumulative rate of growth of inflation of 43%. The high excise increase way ahead of inflation has made legal cigarette extremely unaffordable and therefore, out of the reach of consumers. This has exerted severe pressure on the legal cigarette industry and increased the arbitrage opportunity on illegal cigarettes and caused accelerated shift in consumption from cigarettes to other tobacco forms.

As a result of punitive taxation on cigarettes since 2012-13 the legal cigarette industry in India has dropped from 110 Billion sticks in 2011-12 to 85 Billion sticks in 2015-16 and is expected to drop further in the current year.

In recent months NGOs and other anti-tobacco activists have been engaged in creating an impression that cigarette taxes in India are low and have led to improved affordability. However, an analysis of the “WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2015 – Raising Taxes on Tobacco”, reveals that at 6.5% of per capita GDP, Cigarette Taxes (Excise Duty & State VAT) in India are already amongst the highest in the world. In fact, cigarette taxes in India are 14 times higher than USA, 9 times higher than Japan, 7 times higher than China, 5 times higher than Australia and 3 times higher than Malaysia and Pakistan.

In fact, the incidence of high taxes has made legal Cigarettes extremely unaffordable in India. The WHO Report of 2015, which measured affordability of Cigarettes as a proportion of GDP per capita required to purchase 100 packs of 20 cigarettes of the Most Sold Brand, has found affordability in India very low compared to other countries.

Extremely high tax rates on Cigarettes provide a profitable arbitrage opportunity for tax evasion in India. According to Euromonitor International, India is now the 4th largest illegal cigarette market in the world. A recent FICCI Study on Illicit Markets estimates the overall market for illegal cigarettes in India at a significant 20.2% of the Cigarette Industry having grown from 15.7% in 2010 and resulting in a huge revenue loss of Rs.9,139 crores to the national exchequer.

It is thus evident that the excessive taxation on cigarettes does not decrease overall tobacco consumption. It simply catalyzes the growth of non-cigarette tobacco forms and compels people to switch to cheaper illegal cigarettes often of low quality, manufactured in unhygienic conditions.

An uninterrupted growth in illegal cigarette trade in the country has led to a consistent decline in the legal cigarette industry, which uses domestic tobaccos, impacting the domestic demand and prices for tobacco. The steep fall in legal cigarette volumes in recent years has resulted in lower utilization of tobacco in domestic cigarette manufacture thus affecting offtake of FCV tobacco grown by Indian tobacco farmers.

This disturbing market scenario not only affected farmers’ earnings last year leading to tragic suicides of farmers but is also posing a challenge this year with the projected drop in returns in the FCV growing States of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Due to declining demand tobacco farmers are left with unutilized land with no remunerative alternative crop to grow on them.

It is therefore, important that India should not recklessly implement the guidelines or recommendations made by WHO FCTC as these are a ‘’one-size fits all” solutions based on a western model of tobacco consumption. They do not necessarily serve the purpose of tobacco control or revenue enhancement in a country like India where tobacco consumption is unique and a large proportion of tobacco consumption is either lightly taxed or even evade taxes. Further, India being a large tobacco producer, livelihood of millions will be affected due to such unreasonable policies.

FCTC Articles 9 & 10 are Against the Interests of
Indian Tobacco Farmers

The Guidelines for the implementation of Articles 9 and 10 of the FCTC will have adverse and devastating consequences on Indian Farmers and Indian Tobacco Production.

The measures being proposed under Articles 9 &10 do not capture realities of tobacco consumption in India where bulk of tobacco consumed is largely produced in the unorganized sector. This large unorganized sector (estimated at 68% of overall tobacco consumption) is outside the ambit of regulations in the country and escapes any compliance or enforcement. Consequently, any regulation with regard to Articles 9 & 10 will in reality target only Flue Cured Virginia (FCV) Tobacco Farmers under regulation of the Tobacco Board and the small, law-abiding, regulation-compliant cigarette segment of the Industry.

The Guidelines to Articles 9 & 10 are so broadly drafted that they prohibit all ingredients/additives used by the tobacco industry. There is no evidence, scientific or otherwise, to suggest that a ban on ingredients/additives or an arbitrary reduction in nicotine levels in tobacco or tobacco products would reduce initiation, encourage cessation or reduce consumption.

Tobacco, being an agricultural crop, has its own variations, both seasonal and regional, and hence, it is imperative to use additives to ensure processability and manufacturability of tobaccos grown by Indian farmers.

Tobacco grown in India is largely of the filler grade. A blanket ban on ingredients/additives would render a large proportion of tobacco production by Indian farmers completely unusable. The balance production of domestic tobaccos would need to be blended with expensive, imported flavourful tobacco varieties of a like quantity to be usable by manufacturers entailing a huge outflow of precious foreign exchange.

This would result in a crash in domestic tobacco prices, severely affecting tobacco farmer incomes and livelihoods in the country. In addition, import of flavourful and expensive foreign tobaccos will cause a significant drain of foreign exchange from the country. Moreover, it would be impossible for Indian farmers to find export markets resulting in a direct impact on the marketability of their produce and a consequent impact on their earnings.

More importantly, any artificial and illogical reduction or ceiling on nicotine levels would make tobacco production unviable in the country with the only alternative being exorbitantly priced and unproven Genetically Modified (GM) tobacco seeds with impact on yields, pesticide use and crop cultivation practices completely unknown and with Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) for GM seeds in the hands of a foreign owned monopoly. This would in effect amount to a backdoor entry of overseas interests and the movement of large amounts of funds to IPR owning companies outside India.Another dangerous, and unintended, outcome of a subjective and radical ban on ingredients/additives or reduction in nicotine content would be the huge incentive it would provide to illegal trade in cigarettes and tobaccos. In the absence of product differentiation on the basis of taste profiles, consumers would be forced to seek out smuggled cigarettes that better match their personal preferences.

Furthermore, the Guidelines on the disclosure of the constituents of and emissions from tobacco products on their packages as well as periodic reporting of the same to the Government are impractical for countries such as India. Such a requirement will practically apply only to cigarettes as there are no protocols and infrastructure (laboratories, trained manpower) to monitor, measure and control use of ingredients/additives in bidis, chewing tobacco, khaini etc. This is a pre-requisite before enacting regulations in this area.

The Guidelines on Articles 9 & 10 of the FCTC are not in the interest of India. India, as the second largest producer of tobacco in the world, can play an important role in ensuring that the Guidelines recommended by the FCTC do not affect the livelihood of 45.7 million Indians that are dependent on tobacco.

 

FCTC Articles 17 & 18 Threaten Livelihood of
Indian Tobacco Farmers

Guidelines for implementation of FCTC Articles 17 and 18 are still in the process of being finalized.

Originally, the FCTC had recommended that signatory governments of the FCTC should promote viable alternatives for tobacco growers and workers and ensure safe working conditions and a sustainable environment for tobacco cultivation.

The FCTC Provisions of Articles 17 & 18 of the FCTC are therefore, not about supply reduction but are in fact about helping farmers cope with reduction in demand and improved farming conditions.

It is important to note that the designated Working Group, driven by public health representatives and the tobacco lobby with no representation from India which is a major tobacco growing country, initially came up with several impractical and harsh measures that would have had a devastating impact on the tobacco growers globally. However, lack of consensus on the proposed measures amongst the FCTC Parties and the fierce opposition by tobacco growing countries and tobacco growers’ organizations worldwide compelled the Working Group to revise its approach.

Recognition of these imperatives have therefore, got reflected in the Policy Options and Recommendations submitted and adopted at COP6 in October 2014 for implementation of Article 17 & 18 of FCTC.

The recommendations adopted at COP6 now accept the fact that the substitution of tobacco cultivation with alternative crops is a long-term task and that research on economics and feasibility of alternative crops is essential before any move towards determining viable options to tobacco. The FCTC has also recognized the importance of involving tobacco growers and workers in the decision-making process and to provide them with avenues to voice their views and concerns in this context.

It thus becomes extremely important for the Indian Policy Makers to take cognizance of the Policy Options and Recommendations put forward by the FCTC and adapt them to the specific context of tobacco farmers in India.

As we all know, tobacco cultivation plays a vital role in India’s economy in terms of rural employment, revenue generation and exports. Tobacco production has been providing sustainable incomes to farmers and has resulted in a positive change in the socio-economic standards of the farmers, farm workers and their families.

More importantly, the distressed situation of Indian Flue Cured Virginia (FCV) Tobacco growers in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka brought about by the escalating excise duty on legal cigarettes and the consequent drop in demand for tobacco, the unabated growth of contraband cigarettes, that do not use Indian tobaccos, and the persistent increase in consumption of non-cigarette tobacco products, demand immediate policy intervention by the government to resurrect the plight of Indian farmers.

A dangerous outcome of crop substitution programmes in India would be that it would incentivize other countries, like Brazil, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Zambia, to increase their production of leaf tobacco, thereby keeping overall global production unaffected.

In that case, India would surrender its advantageous and pre-eminent position in tobacco production and exports. It would, indeed, be ironical if this crop substitution policy were to result in shortages of tobacco for the domestic market. India would then find itself in the unenviable position of having to import tobacco.

Crop substitution is an extremely risky process if carried out as an arbitrary, ad hoc and reactive response, more so for a highly remunerative crop like tobacco, where the financial and employment stakes are extremely high.

If poorly executed, it can result in destitution and penury of farmers who today possess a prosperous and successful source of livelihood. Thus, a planned and systematic approach needs to be undertaken before arriving at any decision on crop substitution.

The Report on Tobacco Control in India, published by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare in 2004, maintains, “Given the existing level of technology, the possibility of an alternative crop to tobacco, purely on economic grounds does not exist”. Moreover, studies conducted by the Central Tobacco Research Institute (CTRI) have also outlined that no single crop is more remunerative than FCV tobacco. It has also been proven that tobacco-based cropping systems are more remunerative than non-tobacco cropping systems.

Even the FCTC has not been able to suggest a remunerative alternative crop to tobacco or a model tobacco crop diversification programme to tobacco growing countries despite undertaking a host of initiatives over the years towards implementation of Article 17.

Recently released FCTC report indicates that a Study tour to the tobacco growing regions of Brazil was conducted in pursuit of demonstrating crop diversification programme which only concluded in underscoring the need for adequate policies to support farmers to enable them diversify from tobacco without recommending any proven viable alternative to tobacco crop.

Therefore, any move by the Indian Government to arbitrarily reduce tobacco cultivation as demanded by tobacco control activists would have a devastating impact on India’s export performance and on the livelihood of millions of farmers, farm workers and their families.

Policies for implementation of Article 17 & 18 in India should:

  • Take into account economic, trade and employment issues of India
  • Not promote trade and agricultural policies and cropping measures that are not accepted as best practice by agricultural experts
  • Consider evidence based proposals on economic viability of alternative crops
  • Include all stakeholders (Farmers, Trade & Industry) and consult tobacco experts from the Ministries of Commerce & Industry and Agriculture in policy formulation
  • Safeguard the interests of the very large tobacco farming community which is dependent on this crop

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