The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the tobacco epidemic as one of the most significant public health challenges the world is currently facing, with over eight million deaths reported globally each year.
In commemoration of World No Tobacco Day on May 31, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, Regional Director for Africa, emphasized the theme “Grow food, not tobacco” and highlighted the need for alternative crop production and marketing opportunities for tobacco farmers.
The aim of the theme is to raise awareness about sustainable and nutritious crop cultivation while exposing the tobacco industry’s hindrance to the substitution of tobacco farming with sustainable crops, thereby exacerbating the global food crisis.
Dr. Moeti emphasized the increase in adult smokers in the WHO African Region, from an estimated 64 million in 2000 to 73 million in 2018.
She attributed this rise to the tobacco industry’s robust marketing campaigns and increased production of tobacco products.
To combat this issue, Dr. Moeti urged the enactment of legislation, development and implementation of suitable policies and strategies, and the creation of market conditions that encourage tobacco farmers to transition to growing food crops.
This shift would improve the lives of their families, protect the environment, and enhance overall public health.
World No Tobacco Day serves as an opportunity to highlight the dangers of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke, while renewing advocacy for effective policies to combat the tobacco epidemic and its far-reaching impact.
Dr. Moeti also drew attention to the negative consequences of tobacco farming on nutrition and food security.
She emphasized that tobacco farming destroys ecosystems, depletes soil fertility, contaminates water bodies, and pollutes the environment.
These factors, combined with conflicts, climate extremes, and economic shocks, worsen food insecurity and malnutrition, hindering progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2, which aims to end hunger and ensure sustainable agriculture.
The WHO is actively collaborating with member states and partners to assist farmers in shifting from tobacco cultivation to alternative crops.
Notably, an initiative in Kenya has successfully supported over 2,000 tobacco farmers in transitioning to alternative crops, leading to improved food security, increased income, healthier farming practices, and environmental rehabilitation.
Dr. Moeti called for the expansion of such initiatives to all tobacco-growing countries in Africa to address the grave challenge posed by tobacco farming and promote food and nutrition security throughout the region.