There is a story in the national paper that suggests ”alternative marketable crops” ought to replace tobacco; Tanzania is one of Africa’s biggest tobacco growing regions now. It generates millions of dollars in foreign exchange. It provides an income for thousands; we are engaged with 55,000 farmers, each supporting families and their income contributes hugely to the local economy: during the tobacco sales the population of the Outpost swells threefold because everybody’s got money to spend. And the Outpost represents only a tiny percentage of the growing region.
The story, prompted by the view of a holier than thou NGO – naturally, describes how local tobacco farmers – peasant farmers in the case of Tanzania, not commercial farmers – need to be mindful of environmental and personal health. Tobacco growing – says the journalist – can be harmful to the farmers’ health. Yes, it can be. If he isn’t vigilent about protection during insecticide application (as every farmer must be, regardless of crop) or if he handles the tobacco whilst wet (something which he would not be likely to do since harvesting occurs during the dry season).
The NGO who argues that tobacco growers must seek alternative cash crops needs to get out more (I think that’s what the shiny 4×4 is for love?) and learn something about tobacco first.
1. tobacco grows in marginal land – hot, dry, sandy areas – which would not, for example, despite what NGO suggests, be suitable for the growing of export vegetables which are thirsty and fussy and like rich soils in temperate climes, indeed such country battles to support local crops like maize;
2. tobacco growing, despite what the NGO says, is not solely responsible for the devastation of forests. No – that would largely be the result of unsupported subsistence farming which has not had the benefit of education and exposure to Good Agricultural Practices.
3. tobacco growers’ conditions, because they are growing for large international buyers, are monitored stringently by international growers’ bodies. Did you know, for example, that tobacco farmers uses signifcantly less chemicals than the farmers who plant the mangetout that end up on the shelves of Sainsbury do?
4. tobacco farmers make much more money than the farmers who grow crops advocated by the NGO: export veg sells at about 50cents a kilo, and the export veg market (monopolised by the likes of Tesco) is an ugly, competitive, wasteful business; paprika retails at very much less (in the journalist’s piece a 100kg bag which the poor farmer carted half way across the country to sell went for less than $6 – do the math, it’s not much per kilo). Tobacco farmers can sell their crop at upwards of a dollar a kilo; the price rising in accordance with quality. There is little waste and no obligation on the farmers’ part to move their crop; buyers do that for them. Just as they provide finance to get them going and technical know-how.
I’m going to be shot down in flames now but the reality is hundreds of thousands of people still smoke. It’s a free world; if they choose to despite knowing the risks, why can’t they. And if Africa has the space and manpower and the climate to produce the necessary and make more for peasant farmers than organic vegetables, why can’t she?
It’s unlikely the British government is ever going to promote a grow-local venture in the case of baccy. Besides, Britain doesn’t have the sunshine.
Yes, yes, I know I’m biased. But the thing is: if the tobacco industry here imploded tomorrow, we – my husband and I – have the wherewithal, the education, the experience to do something else.
The 55,000 tobacco farmers don’t. Despite what silly NGO thinks.