Tobacco was introduced as a commercial crop in India in the 1930s gradually bringing in a sea of transformation to the lives of the farming community. It is the hardy and drought resistant nature of the crop that makes all the difference. Tobacco can even be grown in infertile soil, leaving precious fertile land areas of the country for the cultivation of staple and food crops. Tobacco is grown in 4.64 Lakh hectares of the arable land of this country and ensures prosperous living for the farming community compared with existing rural standards of subsistence living.
Among cigarette tobacco varieties, the Flue-Cured Virginia (FCV) tobacco is the most dominant variety in India as well as the world. FCV tobacco is grown in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka, and thrives in soil and climatic conditions that are unsuitable for cultivation of other crops. There is no equally remunerative alternative crop to tobacco.
Besides sustaining a small domestic market, the FCV tobacco produced in India is also exported to over 100 countries of the world generating significant foreign exchange earnings for the country.
However, FCV tobacco farmers in India face a serious threat to their livelihood as excessive taxation on cigarettes and extreme regulations impact the demand for domestic tobaccos. These tough measures have benefitted the illegal operators and smugglers of foreign brand cigarettes. As per Euromonitor International, Illicit cigarette volumes in India registered a whopping 44% growth in a decade from 19.5 billion sticks in 2011 to 28.1 billion sticks in 2020.
Illegal cigarettes do not use locally grown tobaccos and hence, an increase in illegal trade impacts the livelihood of tobacco farmers in the country as demand for domestic tobaccos reduces further. The increase in illicit cigarette volumes has resulted in shrinkage of FCV crop size by a sharp 39% from 316 million kg per annum to 194 million kg per annum between 2013-14 to 2021-22. The FCV cultivation acreage in India has also witnessed a huge drop during the same period leading to 35 million man-days of employment loss.
Proposed COTPA Amendment Bill, 2020 will Impair Livelihood of Farmers
The proposed draft “Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) (Amendment) Bill, 2020” will provide huge boost to the ever-growing illicit cigarette trade in India and will adversely impact the legal cigarette trade. As a result, there will be a drastic drop of demand for tobacco grown by Indian tobacco farmers and they will lose their only source of livelihood. In view of the absence of any alternative source of livelihood, the Government should not bring any amendment which will precipitate the crisis of farmers livelihood.
WHO FCTC is A Threat to Livelihood of Millions of Tobacco Farmers
Various Articles of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) under the World Health Organization (WHO) will have serious impact on the livelihood of tobacco farmers in India:
- Exclusion of key stakeholders like farmers from participating in the development of regulations on tobacco under Article 5.3 is a denial of their constitutional and democratic right to be consulted and heard in the process of the making of laws that will have a direct bearing on their livelihood.
- Any restriction on the usage of ingredients/additives under FCTC Articles 9 & 10 would make at least 30% of tobacco produced in the country unusable necessitating import of expensive tobaccos by local manufacturers. This can only be at the expense of Indian farmers and at the cost of valuable foreign exchange for the country.
- Articles 17 & 18 of the FCTC seeks shifting tobacco farmers to alternate crops. In absence of a viable alternative crop, such policy initiatives would pose a huge threat to the livelihood of tobacco farmers in the country. It is imperative that no alternative should be considered without proper trials and experimentation that can establish the feasibility of sustainable and economically viable alternative crops.