The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on countries to halt the cultivation of tobacco and instead support farmers in growing food, citing the global hunger crisis and the staggering death toll of eight million caused by tobacco-related diseases annually. In anticipation of World No Tobacco Day on Wednesday, May 31st, the WHO expressed concern that 3.2 million hectares of arable land in 124 countries are dedicated to cultivating the lethal tobacco plant, even in regions where people suffer from severe malnutrition.
WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, highlighted that governments worldwide are spending millions to subsidize tobacco farming, emphasizing that prioritizing food production over tobacco cultivation would improve public health, preserve ecosystems, and enhance global food security. The organization’s latest report, titled “Grow Food, Not Tobacco,” reveals that a record-breaking 349 million individuals are currently facing acute food insecurity, with many of them residing in 30 African countries where tobacco cultivation has surged by 15% in the past decade.
According to the WHO, nine out of the ten largest tobacco producers are low and middle-income countries. The presence of tobacco farming exacerbates these nations’ food security challenges by consuming fertile land. Moreover, the expansion of tobacco cultivation contributes to deforestation, water source contamination, and soil degradation, harming both the environment and the communities dependent on it.
The report also sheds light on the tobacco industry’s exploitative practices, which perpetuate farmers’ reliance on tobacco while exaggerating the economic benefits of cultivating it as a cash crop. To address this issue, the WHO, in collaboration with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), has launched the Tobacco Free Farms initiative. The program aims to assist thousands of farmers in countries such as Kenya and Zambia in transitioning from tobacco to sustainable food crops.
Under this initiative, farmers receive microcredit loans to repay their debts to tobacco companies, as well as access to training and knowledge for cultivating alternative crops. Additionally, the WFP’s local procurement initiatives ensure a market for farmers’ harvests, promoting sustainable agriculture and food security.