The Regional Director of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, has said that tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health challenges the world has ever faced.
According to her, the tobacco epidemic has killed over eight million people across the globe every year.
Dr. Moeti raised the alarm, yesterday (Wednesday), in Maiduguri, to mark World No Tobacco Day (WTD) with theme: “Grow Food, Not Tobacco.”
She said that while the number of people using tobacco products is decreasing in other parts of the world, it is, however, rising in the Africa region.
“The number of tobacco users in the region increased from about 64 million adult users in 2000 to 73 million in 2018,” she noted.
Matshidiso attributed the increase to increased production of tobacco products, as well as aggressive marketing by the tobacco industry.
This year’s theme: “Grow Food, Not Tobacco,” was also to raise awareness about the alternative crop production and marketing opportunities for tobacco farmers.
Besides the alternative crop production, it will encourage farmers to grow sustainable and nutritious crops.
Her words: “This could expose the tobacco industry’s efforts to interfere with attempts to substitute tobacco growing with sustainable crops,” warning that this will worsen the global food crisis.
She, therefore, called on Governments and farmers to explore how food and agricultural policies make adequate nutritious food, while reducing tobacco production.
“Tobacco growing and production exacerbates nutrition and food insecurity,” stating that they also destroy the ecosystems, deplete soils fertility, contaminates water bodies that pollutes the environment.
Continued; “Profits to be gained from tobacco as a cash crop may not offset the damage done to sustainable food production in low- and middle-income countries.
Nearly 828 million people are facing hunger globally. Of these, 278 million (20%) are in Africa.
According to her, the major drivers behind recent food insecurity and malnutrition, such as conflict, climate change, and economic shocks, further compounds the situation.
We face a grave challenge in food and nutrition security imposed by the increasing tobacco farming in the Africa Region. Available data shows that while the area under tobacco cultivation decreased by 15.7% globally, in Africa it, however, increased by 3.4% from 2012 to 2018.
During this period, tobacco leaf production globally reduced by 13.9%; however, it increased by 10.6% in Africa. In recent years, tobacco cultivation has shifted to Africa because of a regulatory environment that is more favourable to the tobacco industry, as well as increasing demand for tobacco.
WHO is working with Member States and other partners to assist farmers in shifting from tobacco to alternative crops.
Governments should support tobacco farmers to switch to alternative crops by ending tobacco growing subsidies and using the savings for crop substitution programmes to improve food security and nutrition.
Shifting from tobacco to nutritious food crops has the potential to feed millions of families and improve the livelihoods of farming communities in Africa.
Such initiatives will also combat desertification and environmental degradation, raise awareness in tobacco farming communities about the benefits of moving away from tobacco and growing sustainable crops and exposing the tobacco industry’s efforts to obstruct sustainable livelihoods work in the Africa Region.