Business, Covering Deprivation, Economy, Government

Tobacco fields…up in smoke?

Hunsur/H D Kote: Tobacco farmer’s worries have multiplied with licensing issues and fears of a ban coupled with the fall in yield per hectare in Hunsur and HD Kote Taluks of Mysore district.

“Tobacco farming will stop after two years. I will stop growing tobacco and shut my barn,” said Harish Gowda, who is one of the many non-licensee tobacco farmers in the area. He recently changed his crop from tobacco to ginger.

Many non-licensee tobacco farmers have shifted to other commercial crops after the tobacco board refused to grant new licenses.

The Board which was established in 1982 to regulate tobacco cultivation in the country last issued licences in 1990.

“Now, the Tobacco Board doesn’t want to encourage tobacco farming in the area and at the same time, it can’t deprive the licence holders,” said Dr. S Ramakrishnan, Principal Scientist, Central Tobacco Research Institute (CTRI), Hunsur.

“One reason the Indian Government decided against issuing new licences was to discourage tobacco cultivation. It wants to restrict the area under tobacco cultivation,” he added.

India, a signatory to World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) charter, must reduce tobacco cultivation to 60 per cent of its current area by 2020.

Scientists at the CTRI explained that tobacco was used as a blanket-term in the document and since there were several kinds of tobacco, the failure to specify the kind raised a confusion.

“The tobacco that they are referring to is not cigarette tobacco, which is grown here. Since this is export oriented, we feel that they might not touch this tobacco. Instead tobacco cultivated in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh which aren’t export oriented, might get banned. Once all these other kinds of tobacco have been banned, this tobacco might also get banned,” said Dr. M. M. Swamy, Agronomist, CTRI.

There has been a consistent investment in building and maintenance of barns, even by those who didn’t hold licences. Tobacco cultivators in the area claim that loans taken for such purposes can’t be repaid if a ban or reduction is enforced.

“I support regulation. Let the government take over the land and give us a small share. If they ban tobacco, I can’t repay my loan. I can’t get another loan to cultivate a new crop,” said Ibrahim Khan, another non-licensee tobacco farmer.

Dr. Ramakrishnan revealed that CTRI has been mandated to work on finding crops alternative to tobacco in the area.

“It is a contingency measure if at all anything happens to tobacco in terms of banning, and moreover, it is a matter of government policy, they can simply ban it in one stroke,” he said.

Earlier, a total of 1 lakh hectares of tobacco cultivation in the area yielded 100 million kg. Over the last five years, a drop in the total production has led to the tobacco crop area being taken over by other commercial crops – mostly ginger, according to scientists at CTRI.

“If farmers feel ginger is profitable, they will grow ginger. What is needed for ginger cultivation? Irrigation. They dig bore wells to fulfil the need. Nearly 15,000 hectares of land have been newly converted to ginger cultivation,” said Dr. M. M. Swamy.

Several farmers over the decade had leased their farm land to ginger cultivators from Kerala. A lease agreement for two to three years was signed and the cultivator would then dig a bore well and hire workers at his own expense. By the time the crop was raised and collected, the lease would expire, and the cultivator would move in search of a fresher, richer land to sow more ginger.

Although the farmers would receive a princely sum as lease, the cultivators would leave the land depleted of its strength by using chemical fertilizers in excessive quantities. Authorities also found that the ground water table had further sunk to lower levels.

The government has now issued an order annulling all such agreements after this year.

“I can sow ginger only after two to four years once the present yield has been harvested. Earlier, I would plant tobacco and rotate it with ginger. I don’t have that option now,” said Harish Gowda.



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