To His Excellency, The President of Sri Lanka,
Since 2015, the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Drug Prevention has recommended unreasonable restrictions on tobacco cultivation such as the immediate prohibition ofeven usingbarren marginal paddy lands forsuch cultivation.Despite the fact that tobacco farmers beingthe key drivers of national and rural economic growth, they were not consulted before such adverse recommendations weremade and communicated through agricultural channels.Due to the All Ceylon Cigarette Tobacco Barn Owner’s Association’s (AICTBOA’s)quick action to highlight the injustice of such restrictions, farmerswere allowed to continue our cultivation in 2016.However, to our plight, the Government proceeded to declarea total ban on tobacco cultivation by 2020.
Tobacco is a cash crop which was introduced to farmers by the Sri Lankan Government in the 1950’s and fully supported by successive Governments until very recently. Under the patronage of previous Governments, tobacco cultivation has been an integral part of the agriculture communities spanning around 80 years and three farmer generations.
While the proposed tobacco cultivation ban (which is understoodasbeing driven under a WHO agenda), is clearly not the solution for the smoking problem in society, since the Government backed it up subsequently with assurances of introducing these farmers to an economically viable alternative crop, they were willing to work with the Agriculture Ministry to consider the viability of the proposal.
As such theAICTBOAengaged in several rounds of discussions in 2016 and 2017 with the Ministry of Agriculture. Though the Ministry has still not been able to come up with a suitable alternative, in 2017, tobacco farmers agreed to grow pepper on an extent of 50 acresin Maha season and local paddy varieties and field crops on 500 acres of land during Yalaseason alongside tobacco, as a pilot project. However, despite the lofty objectives, the Government was unable to even provideplants for more than 6 acreslet alone extend any other support for the cultivation of such alternative crops.
In the meantime,the AICTBOAwas compelled to call for an urgent press conference due to therecent media reports quoting an announcement by the Agriculture Department, which took the farming community by storm. We see that despite the many discussions we have had with officials and agreementmade, farmer livelihoods have yet again been threatened by a circular intended to immediately ban tobacco cultivation starting from the upcoming Yala Season (2018). We consider this a very unfair decision, especially as neither an approved nor acceptable economically viablealternative agricultural crop has been introduced, as promised during our discussions. It is our view that the Government should not introduce bans on tobacco cultivation unless they have introduced an acceptable alternative and conducted a pilot scale project to access its viability. We also remind relevant government officials that it is their responsibility to safeguard the livelihoods of those who depend on tobacco cultivation before introducing such laws.
The tobacco farming community, which in number is 300,000 strong, is currently facing a dilemma, and fears for their future due to the misaligned and arbitrary decisions made by the authorities when they have previously agreed with the farmers to allow tobacco cultivation to continueuntil an economically viable alternative crop isintroduced, piloted and adopted in place of tobacco before such a ban isbrought into effect.
Tobacco is a cash crop which farmers choose to grow during the ‘Yala’ season when water is scarce for paddy cultivation. Over 20,000 Tobacco farmers supply the tobacco industry’s leaf requirement using less than 0.01 per cent of the total arable land.Unlike other farmers in the country who face numerous challenges when trying to sell their crop at a suitable price after harvest, tobacco farmers have the assurance of a guaranteed purchase of their full crop at a pre-agreed competitive price. When compared to other cash crops, the direct and indirect employment generated through tobacco cultivation is the highest. As a result, farmers who also grow tobacco are able to improve their quality of life for themselves, their families and the communities around them.
However, the 2020 ban on tobacco cultivation is a serious risk to these farmers as they have not been given any assurances on a suitable economically viable alternative in order for them to transition safely from tobacco to the cultivation of other crops without risking their livelihoods. Under these circumstances, many tobacco farmers are left wondering what their future holds and whether they will be left destitute due to such a move by the Government.
Therefore, The All Island Cigarette Tobacco Barn Owner’s Association urges the government led by the President to continue to allow tobacco cultivation until an alternative cropwhich matches tobacco in economic valueis introducedto the farmer, as successive governmentshave done for the past 80 years.
As the AICTBOA, we wish tomake a plea to the government led by Your Excellency to reconsider the proposed regulations such as the ban of cigarette sales within a 100m radius from places where persons under 21 gather and the stick sale banwhich will severely impact 99% of the legal cigarette retail businesses in the country – which in turn will have an immediate and direct negative impact on our livelihoods as well. If however, the matter persists without a solution, we as the AICTBOA will be left with no choice but to file a complaint at the Human Rights Commission on the premise of violation of human rights, in addition to taking stepsto hold island-wide protests in collaboration with over 300,000tobacco farmers.
All Island Cigarette Tobacco Barn Owner’s Association
Sources : Ada Derana