Diplocom Communications: World Health Organisation”s Tobacco Guidelines Will “Promote Poverty and Starvation in Africa”

African tobacco growing countries have spoken out unanimously against the World Health Organisation (WHO) saying the proposed ban on the use of ingredients in the manufacture of tobacco products would actively promote poverty.

Meeting at a conference in Lusaka, Zambia delegates from 11 African countries, including Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Uganda, Madagascar, Swaziland, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia resolved to oppose the WHO guidelines.

Top government officials will now write urgent letters to the WHO in an effort to get the voices of their countries in opposition to the WHO proposals heard.

Articles 9 and 10 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) deal with the contents and emissions of tobacco products and would effectively ban the use of ingredients other than tobacco in cigarette production.

These ingredients are necessary in the manufacture of blended tobacco products, composed primarily of Burley and Oriental tobacco, which account for approximately half the cigarettes smoked in the world. Without them, farmers of Burley and Oriental would see demand for their crops disappear. As a result millions of African tobacco farmers face starvation if the WHO FCTC articles are implemented.

Tobacco is a cash crop for thousands of farmers in Africa, and no other crop provides the income to particularly small farmers that support entire communities.

“What we face as growers is nothing less than extinction followed by the significant impact in the region’s economic prospects. Jobs, government income and international and local investment are at stake, said Mr Knox Mbazima, General Manager of the Tobacco Association of Zambia.

“Hundreds of thousands of African tobacco-producing farmers will, effectively, be put out of business overnight. African farmers are already at a disadvantage due to agricultural subsidies that makes it difficult to find viable alternatives. In fact these guidelines will lead to the promotion of poverty and starvation in Africa.”

Mr Mwansa James Musonda, Senior Trade Advisor to COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) said that at the recent COMESA summit held in Swaziland, all 19-member states had agreed to oppose articles 9 & 10.

He urged delegates to form alliances with like-minded organisations to present a united force of opposition to the WHO. COMESA has also called on the WHO to put in place proper consultation mechanisms for all affected stakeholders to participate in any future development of FCTC guidelines.

Delegates to the conference said the WHO guidelines would have a significant impact not only on tobacco farmers but also on many others in the industry.

According to Mbazima the proposed articles will expose African farmers to a web of illegality and dependence on unscrupulous traders, as poor populations scramble to find an alternative market for their tobacco crops.

“Viable alternatives to tobacco simply do not exist at this point. Furthermore there is no capital investment forthcoming, most alternative markets are saturated and these crops do not compare in terms of economic yield.

We are calling on people from the tobacco-growing areas to join our fight to actively secure the support of other countries in rejecting the proposed guidelines to Articles 9, 10, 17 and 18 that refer to alternative crops” said Mbazima.

The guidelines will be voted on during the 4th Conference of the Parties meeting in Uruguay in November 2010.