Tobacco production in Gujarat has increased to almost 50 per cent

By Abdul hafiz lakhani

Our Correspondent, Ahmedabad

Tobacco growing districts of Anand and Kheda in Gujarat have higher levels of infrastructure, health and education according to an analysis of the indicators to ascertain the level of economic, social and human development as against non – tobacco growing districts of Patan and Panchmahal, according to a joint study undertaken by ASSOCHAM and Thought Arbitrage Research Institute (TARI).

“Tobacco production in Gujarat has increased to almost 50 per cent as against production levels of food grains, groundnut and oil seeds which fell by about 12-34 per cent during 2009-10 as against that in 2008-09 thereby showcasing that farmers in Gujarat have adopted a market-oriented approach and shifted to crops like tobacco which gives them good returns and an opportunity to earn their livelihood,” highlighted the study titled ‘Tobacco Economics in India: The Voice of Farmer and other stakeholders’ jointly conducted by The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) and TARI.

Tobacco in Gujarat remains a significant cash crop which is freely grown and the growers have analysed risks and rewards of the alternatives available and their shift to tobacco is a conscious one, the study noted. “Hence, alternative solutions to tobacco need to consider the opportunities and related economic gains such growers will forego due to the shift.”

A total of about 125 million kilogram (kg) tobacco is produced in an area of about 65,000-85,000 hectares (ha) with a productivity of about 1800 kg/ha with the major type being bidi tobacco followed by chewing (lal and kala chopadia), hookah (gadaku) and rustica, which are grown in about 20,000 ha.

Kheda, Anand and Vadodara districts account for about 90 per cent of total production of bidi tobacco in Gujarat. Besides a small area in Panchmahal and Dohad districts, while in North Gujarat Zone in Ahmedabad district in a compact area of about 500 ha of Sanand taluka, gadaku tobacco is grown. Mehsana, Banaskantha, Gandhinagar and Sabarkantha districts mainly cultivate rustica tobacco.

On the overall tobacco sector, the ASSOCHAM-TARI study noted that India, which has ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) will lose their market to Zimbabwe, Malawi and Indonesia and face the prospect of seeing millions of job losses, livelihood impact and forex losses.

If India withdraws from this market wholly or partially, the market will be catered by countries which are not bound by any convention and Indian tobacco growers, in the absence of alternative livelihood would also lose the benefit that accrues from exports, the study highlighted.

There is an urgent need to develop economically viable and sustainable farming systems in different agro-ecological regions as an alternative to tobacco and find holistic, inclusive and responsive solutions to alternative livelihoods of tobacco farmers in India, suggested the study.

“Non-ratification of treaty for limiting tobacco production by aforesaid countries will lead to trade disputes and illegal smuggling in India which has ratified the FCTC thereby threatening 38 million jobs and result in lower taxes, duties and the Government may also lose revenue to the extent of Rs 21,000 crore collected by way of exports and excise duty,” said Mr D.S. Rawat, national secretary general of ASSOCHAM while releasing the findings of the study.

“We need to adopt a balanced and well calibrated approach in our policy formation in this regard,” said Mr Rawat. “A multi-pronged strategy of agricultural diversification in a phased manner and shifting to other economic activities is the need of the hour to provide sustainable livelihood solutions to the people associated with tobacco.”

“Such a multi-faceted approach is likely to be more effective than legislation to control tobacco as its cultivation is a lifeline for a sizeable population including rural women, tribals and other weaker sections of the society, who have few means of alternative income opportunities,” he added.

Tobacco farmers need to be included in implementation of the plan as it affects livelihoods of millions in the trade and any overall growth in exports will be beneficial to the entire economy, further suggested the study.

Special attention should be given to the large numbers of women, tribals and dalits employed in tobacco growing and processing who do not enjoy freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, with a view to providing them with sustainable livelihoods.

“Finding alternative employment for daily wage earners in the tobacco sector is the biggest challenge since these agricultural workers need new skills to sustain themselves,” highlighted the ASSOCHAM-TARI study.

Considering all concerns over employment, social security and welfare benefits, social partners and Government should needs to put in more efforts in addressing the uncertainty prevailing due to the increasing challenges in the tobacco sector.

Tobacco provides direct and indirect employment to 38 million people of whom 75 per cent are in agricultural sector, with 6 million farmers and 20 million farm labour engaged in tobacco farming, besides 10 million people working in processing, manufacturing and exports while it is estimated that about five million people work in retailing and trading.

Tobacco contributes over Rs 21,000 crore to the national exchequer through foreign exchange earnings and internal excise revenue and accounts for about 10 per cent of total agricultural exports from India and hence is a critical contributor to the basket of agricultural exports.

India accounts for about six per cent by volume and 0.7 per cent by value of the global tobacco trade.

State-wise Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka together have 85 per cent of the country’s tobacco growing areas. Besides, there are around 90,000 registered tobacco growers in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat together contribute 87 per cent of 14 tobacco waste generated in India.

Bidi tobacco is the major tobacco grown in the country (33 per cent), other tobaccos grown are Virginia Fire Cured-VFC (23 per cent), Natu (12 per cent), Cigar and Cheroot (three per cent), Hookah tobacco (14 per cent), Chewing tobacco (13 per cent) and Snuff tobacco (two per cent).

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