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Tobacco Cultivation and Food Insecurity

  • 01 Jun 2023
  • 7 min read

Why in News?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released a new report highlighting the urgent need to prioritise food production over tobacco cultivation.

  • The report emphasises that approximately 349 million people worldwide are currently facing acute food insecurity, while valuable fertile land is being occupied by tobacco farming. The tobacco industry's interference in efforts to substitute its crops exacerbates the global food crisis.
  • Also, World No Tobacco Day, observed annually on May 31 serves as a reminder of the ongoing battle against global tobacco epidemic. The theme of 2023 is “Grow food, not tobacco”.

Note: Food insecurity refers to a situation where individuals or communities do not have reliable availability, accessibility, affordability, to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and preferences for an active and healthy life.

How is the Global Food Crisis Related to Tobacco Farming?

  • Land Use Competition: Both food production and tobacco farming require land resources.
    • Tobacco farming is prevalent in over 124 countries, occupying significant agricultural land that could be utilised for food production.
    • This competition for arable land can limit food production and exacerbate the global food crisis, especially in areas where food security is already a challenge.
    • The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also warns of increasing acute food insecurity in various regions worldwide.
  • Resource Diversion: Tobacco farming requires significant amounts of resources, including water, fertilisers, and labour.
    • The diversion of these resources to tobacco production can result in limited availability for food crops, contributing to decreased agricultural productivity and food shortages.
  • Financial Impact: Tobacco farming can be financially lucrative for farmers, leading them to prioritise tobacco cultivation over food crops.
    • This preference for cash crops like tobacco may reduce the incentive to grow staple food crops, which are essential for addressing hunger and food security concerns.
  • Environmental Impact: Tobacco farming practices can have adverse environmental effects.
    • Deforestation, soil degradation, and water pollution are often associated with tobacco cultivation. These environmental impacts can further strain the availability of natural resources needed for sustainable food production.
  • Health Consequences: Tobacco use is a major public health concern, leading to numerous diseases and premature deaths worldwide. Tobacco farming poses serious health risks to farmers, including exposure to pesticides and the absorption of nicotine through the skin.
    • The health consequences of tobacco-related illnesses can indirectly impact food security by reducing the productive workforce and placing additional burdens on healthcare systems, diverting resources away from food-related initiatives.
    • According to the WHO, tobacco use kills more than 8 million people every year and exposes millions more to second-hand smoke.

Note: Nicotine is a chemical compound found in the leaves of the tobacco plant (Nicotiana tabacum) and some other plants in the nightshade family. It is an alkaloid that is both a sedative and a stimulant.

What is the Status of Tobacco Consumption in India?

  • Status:
    • Tobacco use is known to be a major risk factor for several non-communicable diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and chronic lung diseases. Nearly 27% of all cancers in India are due to tobacco usage.
      • India is also the second largest consumer and producer of tobacco after China.
    • Nearly 267 million adults (15 years and above) in India (29% of all adults) are users of tobacco, according to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey India, 2016-17.
  • Indian Initiatives to Curb Tobacco Consumption:
    • The Promulgation of the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes Ordinance, 2019 prohibits Production, Manufacture, Import, Export, Transport, Sale, Distribution, Storage and Advertisement of e-Cigarettes.
    • The Government of India launched the National Tobacco Quitline Services (NTQLS) which have the sole objective to provide telephone-based information, advice, support, and referrals for tobacco cessation.
    • The Union Finance Minister of India announced a 16% increase in National Calamity Contingent Duty (NCCD) on cigarettes in the Budget 2023-24.
    • The Union Health Ministry of India has announced new regulations requiring Over-The-Top (OTT) platforms to display tobacco-related health warnings during streamed content.
      • OTT platforms must attach anti-tobacco health spots at the beginning and middle of programs that display tobacco products or their use.
      • Health spots and tobacco-related warnings are already mandatory for television and films in India.

What are WHO's Actions to Address Tobacco Farming?

  • The WHO emphasises the significance of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC), the first international agreement aimed at reducing tobacco consumption and its adverse health effects.
  • WHO has partnered with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) to launch the Tobacco Free Farms initiative, which aims to assist farmers in countries such as Kenya and Zambia by providing microcredit lending, knowledge, training, and support for cultivating alternative crops.

Source: IE

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