a new deal for the smallholder tobacco farmer - Foundation for a Smoke-Free World

a new deal for the smallholder tobacco farmer

After a four-year absence, I am thrilled to be back focusing on African agriculture issues. During my four years away from the topic, I focused on domestic hunger in the United States, then global food policy. For me, this work reinforced the reality that challenges exist everywhere—it becomes a matter of deciding which challenge you care to spend your time on.

As I refocus on African agriculture, there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that not too much has changed since 2013 in terms of a renaissance for African agriculture. It hasn’t happened. But the good news is we are about to be confronted with a rare opportunity to capitalize on fast-changing trends in consumer behavior—a rapid shift and decline in combustible cigarette smoking.

While millions of smokers will experience positive health effects by either quitting or using a reduced-risk product, hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers who produce tobacco leaf will face a crisis if plans aren’t put in place to transition them to other crops or other livelihoods. Consequently, the additional effect of losing significant foreign exchange earnings from export sales of tobacco will virtually cripple countries like Malawi, which relies on tobacco exports for 81% of its foreign exchange earnings.

 

 

Another added benefit from my time away from African agriculture issues, is that it has given me added perspective. What is apparent is that most of the agriculture investment in developing countries (across all crops, not just tobacco) is being made to the input side: technical expertise, storage, handling, improved seeds, and, more recently, supply chains. Stimulating and developing new markets is rarely considered. This raises an important issue for smallholder tobacco farmers as they transition to other crops. Who will ultimately procure and use the resulting increased production? If there is no new market, increased production will merely depress price and create a vicious cycle from which local farmers can’t escape.

The issues facing the smallholder farmer are complex and intertwined. At the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, we will aim to solve those issues with a holistic approach that puts the farmer first. A new deal is needed for the smallholder tobacco farmer. Here our journey begins.

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