Tobacco cultivation is not only detrimental to health but also exacerbates food insecurity and contributes to the global food crisis on a global scale, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Dr. Walter Moulombo, the Country Representative of WHO, emphasized this point during a press briefing held in Abuja to mark the 2023 World No Tobacco Day. The theme for this year’s campaign is “We Need Food: Not Tobacco,” which aims to raise awareness about the harmful effects of tobacco use and exposure, while also highlighting the accountability of the tobacco industry for the damage it causes.
Moulombo outlined the devastating impacts of tobacco, revealing that it claims the lives of half of its users and causes over 8 million deaths annually. “More than 7 million deaths result from direct tobacco use, while 1.2 million nonsmokers die due to second-hand smoke exposure,” he stated.
He further explained the various ways in which tobacco cultivation harms the environment and exacerbates food insecurity. Firstly, tobacco requires vast amounts of land for cultivation, leading to deforestation at a rate of 200,000 hectares per year. Secondly, the heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers in tobacco farming contributes to soil degradation. Thirdly, tobacco depletes soil fertility, making it unsuitable for growing other crops, especially food crops.
Moreover, tobacco farming has a significantly more destructive impact on ecosystems compared to other agricultural activities like maize growing and livestock grazing, as tobacco farmlands are more prone to desertification. In the long run, these factors significantly contribute to climate change and environmental damage.
Moulombo called upon governments and policymakers to develop and implement policies, strategies, and favorable market conditions that support tobacco farmers in transitioning to growing food crops. He highlighted Articles 17 and 18 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which provide specific principles and policy options for promoting economically viable alternatives for tobacco workers and growers, as well as protecting the environment and public health.
In line with this year’s campaign theme, Olufunsho Adebiyi, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, emphasized the need to raise awareness about alternative crop production and marketing opportunities for tobacco farmers, encouraging them to cultivate sustainable and nutritious crops. He also highlighted the tobacco industry’s interference with government policies aimed at promoting viable and sustainable alternatives to tobacco farming, which contributes to the global food crisis.
Dr. Morenikeji Alex Okoh, the Director of Public Health, emphasized that the 2023 global campaign aims to increase public awareness of the importance of embracing sustainable and nutritious crop cultivation instead of tobacco. She further urged governments at all levels to refrain from providing incentives and subsidies for tobacco cultivation and redirect these resources towards supporting farmers in transitioning to more sustainable crops that improve food security.
In conclusion, tobacco cultivation poses a severe threat to both food security and global health. It is crucial for governments, policymakers, and communities to recognize the harmful effects of tobacco and take proactive measures to support sustainable alternatives that prioritize the production of nutritious crops. By doing so, we can safeguard both our health and the well-being of the planet.