As part of Foundation for a Smoke-Free World’s mission of ending smoking in this generation, the Foundation supports efforts to diversify tobacco economies and lessen the reliance of smallholder farmers on the tobacco sector. This requires much more than simple crop substitution, and the Foundation’s approach incorporates aspects of science, technology, innovation, and commercialization to view what is fundamentally an economic question through an economic lens.
To help smallholder tobacco farmers achieve alternate livelihoods, the Foundation is introducing its Agricultural Transformation Initiative (ATI), which will develop new approaches to support farmers who are over-reliant on their singular tobacco crops. The Foundation will seek partnerships with corporate, philanthropic, agricultural, rural development, and smallholder experts to:
ATI will begin its work in Malawi, where more than 80% of the country’s total labor force is in the agricultural sector, with the majority working as smallholder farmers. Malawi is one of the world’s most heavily tobacco-dependent economies. Tobacco accounts for over 60% of the country’s total annual earnings and 13% of the economy as measured by the gross domestic product (GDP). In 2015, 53%i of Malawi’s total export value was attributed to tobacco. According to the government of Malawi, 43.6%ii of Malawi’s $1.1 billion dollars in total export value in 2015 came from tobacco.
The singular focus of the ATI in Malawi is to identify viable economic alternatives for smallholder tobacco farmers, as well as to explore and invest in alternate profitable market opportunities. Diversifying an economy as important as tobacco is not as simple as switching to another crop. We must create an entirely new set of economic drivers and build a case for the structured investment required to make it a reality.
We look forward to working with a wide range of partners to bring change to Malawi. Our first step is to issue a Request for Expressions of Interest to operate and manage a new Center for Agricultural Transformation in Malawi. The Center’s goal is ultimately to transform the lives of Malawian smallholder tobacco farmers. The Center will do so by leveraging innovation in agricultural science and technology.
According to the WHO, 90% of tobacco is grown within low- and middle-income countries, where four in five smokers live. Our work here is just the first step in a robust ATI plan. We agree with Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum who wrote in his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, “…new technologies are fusing the physical, digital, and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies, and industries.” We must ensure that African tobacco farmers are part of this Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Learn more about our Agricultural Transformation Initiative.
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