A recent research has recommended the government to have a relook at the proposed tobacco cultivation ban by 2020, with a four-year phase-out period and financial assistance to tobacco farmers to diversify into other crops, as the employment of over 500,000 stakeholders in three tobacco value chains in the country, is at jeopardy.
An agri-economic research titled ‘Understanding Farmer Perspectives on Proposed Tobacco Growing Ban and Opportunity to Diversify’ was launched earlier this week and the research was carried out by Green Space Consultancies, headed by its founder Dr. Chathura Rodrigo.
The study revealed that the tobacco farmers have little awareness of the proposed ban on tobacco cultivation while the majority of the farmers expect that the ban wouldn’t be imposed. In addition, the officials at local level have also failed to provide any clarity to the farmers, on the proposed ban.
Rodrigo pointed out that replacing the subsidized fertilizer to the farmers with vouchers failed, as the government abruptly implemented the initiative without a proper phasing out of the programme. He predicted a similar outcome from the proposed tobacco cultivation ban, without consulting the farmers and other stakeholders in tobacco value chains.
The research looked into three different tobacco value chains— tobacco grown for smokeless tobacco products or chewing tobacco, tobacco grown for beedi and cigars and tobacco grown for cigarette manufacturing.
“They earn a substantial disposable income by engaging in the value chain. Their socio-economic conditions have gone up significantly because of the healthy income they earn from growing tobacco.
Implementing a cultivation ban will displace these farmers and have serious consequences on their lives. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that they look for alternative livelihoods,” the report stated.
Rodrigo noted that the government is expected to announce the ban during the Yala season this year. However, he emphasised that there’s little evidence that the government has attempted to include the farmers in the dialogue on how the ban should be implemented.
A survey conducted among the farmers cultivating tobacco for cigarette manufacturing revealed that 32 percent of them are ready to shift to paddy, while 47 percent of the farmers don’t have an opinion on how to proceed, if the ban is imposed in 2020, as announced.
The 91 percent of the farmers who participated in the survey have demanded the government to provide a guaranteed price for any alternative crops the government plans to introduce.
They also have suggested the government to appoint a committee to lead crop diversification and to provide financial packages to cultivate alternative crops.
However, Rodrigo noted that the tobacco farmers belonging to different value chains have expressed different opinions on the ban. For example, he said the farmers in the Kalpitiya area engaged in tobacco cultivation for chewing tobacco are extremely resistant to the ban and they are ready to protest, if the ban is implemented.
A copy of the report was handed over to Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera last Friday.
The research report has proposed four models of diversification of Lankan tobacco farming, ahead of the 2020 ban— tobacco-cash crop model for export-oriented value chains, tobacco cash crop model under good agricultural practices value chain for the European Union, tobacco organic cash crop value chain aimed at the export market and tobacco-specific fruits aimed at local manufacturers under guaranteed prices.
The report recommends the following three cross-cutting themes could be used to make the above four models even more profitable—incorporating animal husbandry, gliricidia cultivation and aquaculture/ornamental fisheries. (NF)