Response to Daily Mirror Article “Manipulative tobacco cultivation no more a profitable livelihood. Tobacco Free Nation: Sri Lanka’s Dream” dated March 26.
The All Island Cigarette Tobacco Barn Owner’s Association (AICTBOA), would like to respond to the alleged misleading information and allegations contained in the article Manipulative tobacco cultivation no more a profitable livelihood. Tobacco Free Nation: Sri Lanka’s Dream published on March 26.
In fact, Sri Lanka was one of the first countries in the world to eliminate the use of wood for tobacco curing
We would like to start by saying that this article and the attempt made by Dr. Mahesh Rajasuriya to tarnish the image of tobacco farmers and tobacco farming in Sri Lanka is a good example of people with little or no understanding of the subject voicing opinions, which are not based on facts.
Firstly, we would like to point out that tobacco is a cash crop, which was introduced to farmers by the Sri Lankan Government in the 1950s and fully supported by successive Governments until very recently.
Under the patronage of previous Governments, tobacco cultivation has been an important part of the agrarian communities spanning 70 years and three farmer generations.
Currently, there are more than 20,000 farmers growing cigarette tobacco using less than 0.01% of the country’s arable land.
These farmers depend on tobacco cultivation to earn a living while more than 300,000 livelihoods are dependent on this crop and its value chain.
Tobacco cultivation infuses over Rs. 1.5 billion to the rural economy annually.
“In addition to that, it (Tobacco cultivation) compels farmers to use child labour...”
As the All Island Cigarette Tobacco Barn Owner’s Association representing over 20,000 cigarette tobacco farmers in Sri Lanka, we vehemently deny this as false.
We ensure our farmers are educated and aware of Ceylon Tobacco Company’s (CTC’s) strict policy of not using child labour in tobacco growing.
The attempt made by Dr Mahesh Rajasuriya to tarnish the image of tobacco farmers and tobacco farming in Sri Lanka is a good example of people with little or no understanding of the subject voicing opinions, which are not based on facts.
In fact, this is a clause included in the contract that is signed between the farmers and the company. We can confidently say that there have been no reported cases of child labour in cigarette tobacco farming in Sri Lanka.
It is sad that Dr. Rajasuriya has made a general statement accusing tobacco farmers in Sri Lanka of using child labour without looking at the reality or speaking to farmers to understand the situation.
“Furthermore, tobacco is not a magical crop as it is portrayed in media and promotional campaigns. It is labour-intensive, weather dependent and can be harmed by wild animals, it involves a high initial investment and is not profitable as it is portrayed to be.”
As Dr Rajasuriya, points out, tobacco is a labour-intensive crop. Growing tobacco requires between 320 to 340 man-days per hectare. This means tobacco provides direct employment to many people living in rural areas who would otherwise have no way to earn a living. We must also point out that tobacco cultivation generates indirect employment for many people. All in all, we look at the “labour intensity” that Dr Rajasuriya speaks of as a positive thing.
Moreover, as in the case with all other agricultural crops tobacco is also weather dependent and like paddy, sugar cane and coconut, tobacco is also attacked by wild animals. However, through experience we know that it is a more resilient crop and can survive even in harsh conditions.
Tobacco cultivation generates indirect employment for many people. All in all, we look at the “labour intensity” that Dr Rajasuriya speaks of as a positive thing.
Tobacco requires only 1/7th of the water required to grow paddy making it an ideal crop for the dry zones in Sri Lanka. This and the fact that tobacco is a guaranteed source of income are reasons why many farmers have continued to grow it despite being harassed by certain government authorities and anti-tobacco NGOs.
“In many developing countries wood is used as a fuel to cure tobacco leaves and to construct curing barns”
Here is an example of the anti-tobacco lobby using false information to mislead the public about tobacco cultivation. We say with complete confidence that in Sri Lanka cigarette tobacco curing is carried out using paddy husk only. Paddy husk is a waste material that is available in many agricultural areas and our farmers shifted to the use of paddy husk during the 90s.
In fact, Sri Lanka was one of the first countries in the world to eliminate the use of wood for tobacco curing. Furthermore, 100% of the tobacco barns are automated and even the paddy husk is used in a more efficient manner. This technology was developed locally by one of our own farmers. Instead of recognizing these facts and achievements, we find it sad that, anti-tobacco groups keep levelling baseless accusations at us.
“It has also been found that tobacco cultivation involves a lot of pesticides, which need to be used in all stages of tobacco growth. Tobacco depletes soil nutrients at a higher rate and requires regular input of chemical fertilizers.”
This is yet another statement that is not applicable in the Sri Lankan context. Tobacco farmers adopt integrated pest management systems to control pests. Furthermore, CTC helps farmers by testing the soil and recommending of site-specific fertilizers based on soil mapping.
Recently the University of Peradeniya also conducted a study to test the soil quality in tobacco lands. This study found that tobacco had no adverse impact on soil fertility. This can be further proven by the fact that we use the same lands to cultivate paddy during the Maha season.
“Cultivating tobacco affects the quality of life of farmers and their families. It affects their health and well-being. It causes exhaustion and stress, induces wheezing and other respiratory diseases such as the green tobacco sickness.”
The green tobacco disease has been identified by CTC as a potential risk to tobacco farmers if it is not managed properly. It is not a secret, and in fact, the company talks about this risk openly and works very closely with our association to educate farmers in Sri Lanka on precautionary measures to follow. We have introduced simple yet effective methods to ensure the farmers are not impacted. We invite anyone interested to visit the tobacco growing areas and speak to tobacco farmers before making claims without any backing.
Furthermore, exhaustion and stress are part and parcel of any farmer’s life and anyone who understands anything about farming and agriculture will know this. Farmers in Sri Lanka exert a lot of effort not just to grow their crops but also to sell the harvest at the end of the season.
“Material on credit and forward buying approaches of the CTC engage the farmers in a viscous cycle of tobacco cultivation, which leads to many negative effects as explained earlier. The main pitfall is farmers being blind-folded to measure economic gain based on the amount of money received at one time rather than the calculation of actual profit when accounted for all the costs including the cost of labour of the farmer and his family members.”
Cigarette tobacco farmers are the only farmers in the country who receive support and security through the forward contract system that is followed by CTC. This means that unlike farmers of other crops, we are guaranteed the purchase of the full crop grown at a pre-agreed, competitive price. We find it disturbing that Dr Rajasuriya feels this is pitfall and a vicious cycle. We would like to inquire from him if a sustainable income and a guaranteed sale of crop are signs of being stuck in a vicious cycle.
All Island Cigarette Tobacco Barn Owner’s Association