An expert on tobacco-induced diseases, Akin Adebiyi, has warned tobacco farmers of the harmful effects of cultivating the crop.
Mr. Adebiyi, a medical doctor at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, said tobacco farmers should form a co-operative and engage the government for alternative means of sustenance in farming.
Tobacco cultivation is an intensive process that involves several stages and exposes farmers to tobacco dust.
For example there is the Green Leaf syndrome that is well documented that the tobacco farmer is prone to have, said Mr. Adebiyi.
“But more importantly is when they harvest the tobacco product and they are trying to make it suitable for the tobacco industry to buy from them. During the Curing process, they have to do a lot of work which is highly intensive, and they have to use firewood so they are exposed also to smoke, they are exposed to the tobacco dust that is generated when you are trying to put the products together.
“And they are not the only ones that are exposed, they also bring in their children to make sure that these are packed well. Sometimes it gets mouldy and they are exposed to mould.
“So all these are situations where the farmer can actually be exposed to deleterious effects of tobacco, so it’s not only about smoking,” he said.
Mr. Adebiyi spoke with journalists during a tour of tobacco farms in Iwere-Ile, Oyo State, on Wednesday.
He said the efforts tobacco farmers put into the cultivation of the plant is not commensurate with the financial gains they receive through sales of the finished products.
“I would say is that if you look at the efforts that tobacco farmers put into the farming, in terms of when the product is at the nursery stage and they have to wet morning and night, spend a lot of time in the farm and you look at what they eventually get at the end of the process, you realise that it’s not that profitable,” he said.
“And then along the line they are exposed to some deleterious effects of tobacco dust and of the firewood they use during the curing process.
“Government needs to engage the farmers. They need to know that tobacco farmers have to earn a living. And because they have to earn a living, we must as a matter of necessity look for alternative to tobacco farming.
“Animals shy away from tobacco, they don’t eat tobacco. But man is…it’s so funny that animals that are supposed to be at the lower level than man understand the dangerous effects of tobacco, but man is the one that is cultivating it and eating it. And man is supposed to be at a higher level than animals. The farmers need to be educated and they need to group themselves into a cooperative to approach the government.”
A tobacco farmer in the community, Michael Falana, said they grow the plant twice a year – between March and June and then July and August.
“I stay at the farm from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the planting season,” said Mr. Falana, the head of tobacco growers in the community.
Mr. Falana said they receive loans from tobacco companies at the start of every planting season – about N400,000 – and make a profit of about N150,000 after repaying the loan.
“I plant cassava in between the planting seasons to support my income,” he added.
Akinbode Oluwafemi, an environmental activist, said tobacco farmers do not receive adequate protection from government in terms if policy formulation.
“If my memory serves me right, this is my fifth tour of tobacco farms and, sadly, nothing has changed,” said Mr. Oluwafemi, Director of Corporate Accountability at Environemntal Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria.
“The farms remain a territory for modern slavery. The tobacco farmers are in a cycle of debt with the tobacco companies who treat them like slaves. They farm the crop, they take it to the collection centre and they come and dictate the price. The farmers are still exposed to all manner of risks as a result of chemicals that are used in tobacco farming. There is not enough protection in terms of policy on the side of government.
“Most importantly, you all saw what it took to even locate one tobacco farm. So you begin to ask yourself ‘where are the tobacco farms?’
“The reality on ground is the same question we have been asking the government to unravel. How many acreage of tobacco farms are in Nigeria? How many tobacco farmers are in Nigeria? How much of tobacco leaves do Philip Morris, BAT import into their factories in Ibadan or Ilorin to produce the volumes that we have?
“Because from what you’ve seen today, certainly those leaves are not coming from these farms. What we basically have in Nigeria are farmers that the tobacco companies are using for public relations and for their political agenda. And we are saying that narrative must change. Government must take interest in this, work with civil society, stakeholders, and the farmers to find a way out of this problem.”