PHL tobacco farmers join World Tobacco Grower’s Day celebrations

An Ilokano farmer sprays insecticide on his tobacco plants to keep them robust and healthy until harvest time in Santo Tomas, La Union. VA/NorthboundPH

MANILA — Philippine tobacco farmers on Friday join colleagues in several other countries to commemorate World Tobacco Grower’s Day.

Other countries joining this celebration are Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, the Indonesia, India, Malawi, Macedonia, Tanzania, and Zambia.

World Tobacco Grower’s Day (WTGD), celebrated for the fourth year in a row, is an initiative promoted by the International Tobacco Growers’ Association (ITGA) since 2012.

With the WTGD, tobacco-growing communities around the world seek to jointly defend the sector’s legitimacy by publishing the significant contribution made by tobacco to their regions and countries.

Growers insist on the fact that they grow a legal crop for a legal market, and that tobacco provides a livelihood to millions of growers, rural workers and their families around the world.

The ITGA had expressed its displeasure over the “undemocratic” and “exclusionary” tactics of the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to ban appointed and elected officials from participating in the Conference of Parties (CoP7) to be held in Delhi, India this November.

Last month, the ITGA called on United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to intervene on its behalf by exercising his authority as the head of the UN to look into this breach of international law and ensure that the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) conforms with its obligations under the UN Charter.

“The ITGA hereby kindly and respectfully requests that you exercise your authority, as Secretary General of the United Nations and guardian of the UN Charter, to ensure that the FCTC fulfills its obligations under the Charter and operates in an inclusive and transparent manner,” ITGA President Francois van der Merwe and CEO Antonio Abrunhosa wrote in a letter to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon dated Sept. 21, 2016.

With the WTGD, tobacco growers around the world also wish to collectively demand from their governments a sustainable future in the face of the large uncertainties engulfing the tobacco market as a result of a steep decline in demand, without any present options that may ensure the subsistence of tobacco-growing communities.

On-going regulatory measures are also a source of grave concern for the sector. Such will be discussed in the CoP7 this November in India.

Growers and their associations recognize the need to introduce measures to curb tobacco consumption but, in over 10 years since the inception of the WHO FCTC, they have not been afforded any opportunity, not a single one, to participate and present the sector’s realities.

In the same period, they said the WHO FCTC has grossly underestimated the consequences of many of its proposed measures and refused to understand that most of them would not have any impact on consumption but would indeed affect, irreparably, the livelihood of tobacco growers and their families.

“Philippine tobacco growers have watched with utter frustration the increasingly stronger exclusion measures imposed by the WHO FCTC, which we consider totally inappropriate, particularly because they come from a UN organization that claims that transparency is the guiding principle in all processes under the WHO FCTC, as evidenced in statements made by Dr da Costa e Silva,” said Mr. Saturnino Distor, President of the Philtobacco Growers Association.

Tobacco is an important crop and source of income in the Philippines. As such, tobacco growers demand that:

— Their right to consultation in the development of any policy that affects them directly be guaranteed;

— The significant economic contribution made by tobacco to the economies of growing countries be recognized; and

— Sound and thorough market assessments are conducted when proposing measures. Lilybeth Ison/

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