TII Honours Tobacco Farmers for Adopting Innovative & Sustainable Farm Practices to Raise Productivity and Yield

  • 10 tobacco farmers of Karnataka felicitated at the 23rd TII’s Tobacco Farmers’ Awards for their exemplary performance and use of contemporary and sustainable farming practices.
  • India is the 2nd largest producer and a leading exporter of tobacco in the world.
  • Government should extend export incentives to tobacco to boost exports and ensure remunerative earnings for farmers.
  • India’s FCV tobacco crop is impacted by large illegal cigarette trade, which has grown over the years due to extremely high cigarette taxation.
  • Extreme policy recommendations by FCTC resulted in adverse consequences for the legal cigarette industry and domestic farmers.
  • Government should strike a balance between adopting WHO proposals and livelihood of millions of small farmers and rural workers.

Periyapatna (Mysuru), 22nd August 2023: The Tobacco Institute of India (TII) today organized the 23rd edition of the TII Tobacco Farmers’ Awards to felicitate the remarkable performance of farmers utilizing modern, innovative and sustainable farming practices to enhance farm productivity and yield.

The awards ceremony was attended by Hon’ble Minister for Animal Husbandry & Sericulture, Shri K. Venkatesh; Member of Legislative Council, Shri A. H. Vishwanath; Members of the Legislative Assembly, Shri A. Manju, Shri Anil Kumar Chikkamadu, Shri Ravishankar, Regional Manager, Tobacco Board, Dr. Brijbhooshan Jangid, Regional Manager, Tobacco Board Members, Shri Vikram Raj Gowda and Shri H. R. Dinesh, Principal Scientist & Head, ICAR-CTRI Research Station at Hunsur, Dr. S. Ramakrishnan, among others

The ceremony witnessed the felicitation of 10 tobacco farmers from Karnataka in four separate categories – ‘Lifetime’, ‘Best Farmer’, ‘Sustainability’ and ‘Recognition’.

Recognizing the growing emphasis on sustainable agricultural practices in tobacco cultivation for higher efficiency, superior crop quality and protection of the environment, the Institute announced a new award category on Sustainable farming this year.

Speaking at the awards ceremony, Shri Sharad Tandan, Director, TII, said, that India is the 2nd largest producer and a leading exporter of tobacco in the world. Tobacco provides livelihood to more than 4.5 crore Indians, including farmers and farm labourers. He informed the audience about the different varieties of tobacco grown in 13 states of India, including Flue Cured Virginia (FCV), Burley, Oriental, Bidi, Chewing etc.

Highlighting the potential of FCV in raising foreign export earnings, he said, “India is the 3rd largest producer of FCV tobacco in the world with FCV being the most remunerative variety with huge export demand. Importantly, FCV tobacco accounts for only around 25% of the country’s total tobacco production but contributes around 70% of India’s overall leaf tobacco exports in value terms. We can attain newer heights in tobacco exports if we harness the tremendous export potential of tobacco by aligning our exports with the global demand.”

According to reports, India’s leaf tobacco exports reached a record high during 2022-23 both in volume and value terms. India exported tobacco and tobacco products worth Rs. 9,740 crore during the year with Cigarette type tobaccos namely FCV and Burley being the major contributors. India has around 13% share of the world’s tobacco production. However, it accounts for only 5% value share of global tobacco leaf exports. It exports only around 30% of the tobacco produced in the country, whereas other leading tobacco-growing countries viz., Brazil, USA and Zimbabwe, export between 60-90% of their production. It shows the huge potential to increase India’s share of global tobacco exports and claim its rightful position in world trade.

“To achieve this, the Indian Government should provide export incentives similar to what other large tobacco producing/exporting countries like Zimbabwe, Malawi etc. offer to the tobacco sector. This would improve the price competitiveness of Indian tobacco in the world market, help tap the export potential of the tobacco sector, benefitting the domestic tobacco farmers in the country,” Shri Tandan added.

Besides adequate export stimulus, a stable domestic market is a prerequisite to boost exports and also to ensure remunerative earnings for farmers. The FCV tobacco crop in India is impacted by large illegal cigarette trade, which has grown over the years due to extremely high cigarette taxation in the past and the resulting tax arbitrage. With the tax incidence on cigarettes remaining high, illicit cigarettes currently represent 1/4th of the total cigarette market. The huge profits available due to the tax arbitrage encourages unscrupulous operators in the illicit trade. Since illicit/smuggled cigarettes do not use domestically produced tobaccos, their presence over the years has caused drop in demand for tobaccos grown locally, affecting FCV production and earnings of farmers.

It is a matter of serious concern that overall FCV tobacco production in India dropped from a high of 316 million kgs in 2013-14 to 189 million kgs in 2021-22, causing losses of an estimated 35 million man-days of employment in the tobacco growing areas in the country. This massive drop in tobacco production in India has incentivized competitive leaf producing countries like Brazil, Zimbabwe, Vietnam etc. to increase their production of leaf tobacco – substituting Indian tobaccos in the world market.

“It is unfortunate that India is losing its strong position in the world trade and other tobacco producing countries are benefiting at its cost. Zimbabwe, one of the large FCV producing countries seeing the export potential and global demand has a strategy to substantially increase its tobacco production levels to 300 million kgs. While FCV production in India has dropped in the recent years, Zimbabwe has increased its production to around 290 million kgs from a low of around 50 million kgs in 2008,” TII Director said.

Tobacco farming in India uses only 0.24% of the total arable land area and the crop is grown largely in semi-arid and rain-fed areas where cultivation of other crops is not equally remunerative. Farmers in India grow tobacco out of choice in these regions due to the economics of this crop. Studies conducted by the Central Tobacco Research Institute (CTRI) have also outlined that no single crop is more remunerative than FCV tobacco in the region. There are instances of FCV tobacco farmers suffering huge loss as they switched to alternative crops such as bengal gram, chilli etc. making them return to tobacco in the following year. Even World Health Organization, which has been campaigning for alternative crops in place of tobacco under the guise of Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), has not been able to suggest an equally remunerative alternative crop to tobacco.

“The WHO FCTC is holding the 10th Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP10) later this year which poses a fresh threat to the tobacco sector. It is highly likely that this bi-annual meeting would come up with harsh and impractical policy measures without understanding the ground realities of the tobacco sector. Extreme policy recommendations by FCTC, seeking excessive cigarette taxation, large pictorial warnings etc. have already resulted in adverse consequences for the legal cigarette industry and the farming community in the country. We hope the COP10 meeting does not come up with ill-conceived policy measures on issues like tobacco crop diversification etc. which will have a devastating impact on India’s export performance and on the livelihood of millions of farmers, farm workers and their families,” TII Director said.

Worryingly, FCTC processes have become increasingly undemocratic, non-participatory and opaque over the years with decisions made behind closed doors denying access to media, the public and tobacco growers and other stakeholders from the deliberations. In fact, it is ironic that tobacco farmers, farmer organizations and other stakeholders who are directly affected by FCTC proposals are deliberately kept out of the FCTC Meetings. Further, tobacco experts and relevant bodies with the necessary technical knowledge on tobacco growing should be allowed to participate in FCTC discussions in order to protect the interests of tobacco growers and other Industry stakeholders.

Tobacco, being an important cash crop, generates enormous socio-economic benefits in India, in terms of gainful agricultural employment, tax revenue and foreign exchange earnings. It is therefore, important that the Government of India undertakes prior consultation with farmers and other Industry stakeholders and seeks their representation in FCTC Meetings.

The Indian Government should not be influenced by the propaganda of the international NGOs who want unreasonable regulations and should instead promote a balanced approach towards tobacco control. India’s tobacco regulations should be specifically adapted to the conditions prevailing in the country so that they do not harm the livelihood of millions who are engaged in the tobacco industry. Government should strike a balance between adopting WHO proposals, which are recommendatory in nature, and livelihoods of millions of small farmers and rural workers in the country by supporting pragmatic tobacco policies.

 About TII Awards: 

 The Tobacco Institute of India (TII) instituted the TII Tobacco Farmers’ Awards in the year 1999 to recognize and encourage the Flue Cured Virginia (FCV) tobacco farming community into adopting modern and scientific farming practices. These awards seek to facilitate improvement in yields, productivity, quality and global competitiveness of the domestic cigarette tobaccos through adoption of contemporary farming practices.

The response and success of these awards over the years encouraged us to subsequently extend them, in 2009, to include the air-cured varieties of tobacco also.

This annual awards ceremony also provides a platform for all stakeholders in tobacco sector to meet and interact on issues of common interest, particularly regarding farming practices and policy formation.