Letter: WHO, tobacco and farmers
Recently, thousands of tobacco farmers from Indonesia, China, Pakistan, Vietnam, South Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia, India and Thailand protested against the stance of the chairman of the World Health Organization (WHO) on tobacco.
The government of Indonesia apparently has to take action on the WHO’s anti-tobacco policy to save the farmers. Most tobacco farmers plant tobacco when dry season is coming. It is part of their daily life to plant tobacco after the rainy season has passed or to let their fields lie fallow because they do not have money to plant other crops. That is a reality in Temanggung, one of cities in Central Java famous as a tobacco production center.
Accepting the WHO’s recommendation to say no to tobacco seems too early without considering the implications for tobacco farmers. It will crash their economy and increase the percentage of people living in poverty, which has decreased in 2012 in Indonesia.
Soedaryono, the general chairman of AMTI (Indonesian Tobacco Society Alliance), was quoted by Rimanews on May 28 as saying, “We urge the government to listen to our voice as the tobacco farmers and part of Indonesian society rather than receive an agriculture policy that is incomprehensible. This is an external force that does not understand the real situation.”
The WHO’s general policy for the world may not fit Indonesia. They do not even consider what we think of as a human right — the freedom to choose. Most smokers know the harmful effects of smoking because they feel the effects on their bodies. Why not they let them do what they want and ask them to smoke in designated smoking areas to protect non-smokers?
The WHO has gone one step too far. Its vision to save people’s health will hurt tobacco farmers. No tobacco will be planted if there is no demand from the market. I think educating society about the dangers of smoking would be a better way to help them make educated choices about smoking.
The Non-Tobacco Alliance has a lot of money and they recommended to halting the cultivation of tobacco without providing alternative plants to the more than 1 million tobacco farmers in Asia. It breaks the 2002 Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Countries who have signed the treaty have committed themselves to helping tobacco farmers find alternatives to tobacco cultivation.
These farmers have no hope without cultivating tobacco, or alternative crops. The situation is compounded by fluctuations in market demand. Now is not the time for the WHO to ban tobacco. Future market demand for tobacco may decrease as education succeeds in informing society and they choose to stop smoking.
It is important for the Indonesian government to adapt the policies of international organizations to the conditions of society. Otherwise, these policies may damage society’s economic condition.