Indian tobacco farmers are not happy. They say their repeated requests to include representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture and Tobacco Board at WHO Conference of Parties (COP 5) held in South Korea last month were ignored.

They were sulking at the Indian delegation, represented by the Health Ministry officials, supporting the phasing out of the tobacco crop through extreme regulations.

Tobacco farmers are concerned that the Indian delegation consisting only Health Ministry officials at the recent WHO summit did not pay any heed to 26 million tobacco farmers and farm labourers’ plea to work out realistic alternatives before taking any drastic action on tobacco crop, Pammi Badri Reddy, a Tobacco Board member, said.

Representatives of 176 Governments, which are party to the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, met at Seoul last month to discuss the future of tobacco farming in the backdrop of increasing demand for curtailing the crop.

“Five large tobacco growing countries including the US, Argentina, Indonesia, Zimbabwe and Malawi have not signed WHO’s treaty on tobacco control. Why should Indian farmers be penalised since India has signed the WHO treaty while other major tobacco growing countries have refused to do so,” an official of the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) said, commenting on the outcome of the Korean meeting.

The ITGA has asserted that the curbs on tobacco farming were not justified as long as the governments failed to show them viable alternatives.

“It is unfortunate that certain Health Ministry bureaucrats from India with no real farming experience tried to push radical guidelines to phase out tobacco crop through extreme regulations before viable alternatives have not even been identified,” Pammi Badri Reddy said.

Indian farmers have said that they would continue their efforts to bring pressure on the Government to include farmers in the next round of WHO deliberations slated for 2014.

kurmanath.kanchi@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on December 4, 2012)
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