Author: Anshul Batra is the Senior Manager – Marketing, for International Business

In the piece titled ‘The journey of tobacco: From field to cigarette stick – a blend of art and technology’, we touched upon the pioneering strides in innovation that the tobacco industry has been spearheading to improve production levels and quality, ensure better practices and engage with resources and the environment to ensure increased eco-sustainability. The ecosystem that tobacco companies work with is a very diverse one, covering various processes, technologies and skill sets across the supply chain.

But the heart of the tobacco industry is the farming community. Tobacco is cultivated in a 124 countries across the world, employing around 50 million people globally.

Why do farmers prefer to grow tobacco?

  • –    High global demand
  • –    Can be grown on low-fertile soils and arid environments
  • –    Can be grown in conditions not suitable for other crop types
  • –    Easy to store and less perishable compared to other crops
  • –    Tobacco crop enjoys price stability
  • –    High returns per acre

While business strategies and research initiatives have always ensured improvement and establishment of global standards in products and processes, it is the CSR mind-space of the industry that has consistently worked with the farmers and their families – not only in improving farming methods and yield quality, but also touching upon various aspects of their lives. It is a space that hasn’t been spoken much about, but one that is continuously transforming the lives of what is a very vulnerable community across crop categories globally, particularly in developing nations.

While social, economic and cultural factors may vary country to country, there are some common aspects in tobacco farmers’ lives that have demanded support. In India, Godfrey Philips  has been working with farmers in the heart of the tobacco growing regions in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

Know more about GPI’s CSR initiatives

Labour standardisation: With many tobacco growing communities located in poorer economies and developing nations, ensuring adherence to human rights and prevention of exploitative child labour have been key focus areas of tobacco firms across the world. Sustainable tobacco programmes repeatedly try to ensure that basic human rights criteria are met including not allowing children below legal ages to work, preventing forced labour, better working hours and benefits. Tobacco companies support thousands of children from these farming communities by giving them access to education, vocational training and better standards of living through community development programmes. GPI’s comprehensive Agriculture Labour Practices (ALP) programme works towards progressively eliminating child labour and other labour abuses on farms. The initiatives also go a step further to create integrated programmes that benefit the farmer in a holistic manner.

Financial assistance programmes: Tobacco farmers face uncertainties of weather, pest problems and diseases, with small land holding farmers being plagued with many more problems. Apart from schemes that give them better access to critical technical support in areas like pest control, soil conservation or yield improvement, financial support and guidance are support towers for the community. Many farmers in Asia, Africa and South America are small land holders (1 to 5 acres) and eke out a hand-to-mouth existence only aggravated by hardships like droughts. These various issues of poor economy create a vicious cycle for the farming community. GPI works closely with local partners in India to provide specific solutions through initiatives such as the creation of Farmer Development Societies (FDS). Member-farmers are given training, seed money for loans to procure agricultural equipment, fertilizers, pesticides, etc. Farmers are gradually brought under the umbrella of insurance to help them tide over issues like drought, low yield and so on.

Community and family facilities: With the goal being to better the lives of the tobacco farming community and establish long-term relationships, tobacco companies the world over – and GPI in India – have engaged with farmers and their families at the individual and community level. These intensive programmes are generally designed keeping in mind specific conditions based on geography, social structure and culture.

            – Schooling: From working towards eliminating child labour to providing free schooling, after school programmes and vocational training in collaboration with local partners, CSR initiatives focus keenly on improving access to education and opportunities to children of tobacco farmers. GPI’s After School Programme has been designed to keep children back in school until their parents return from work, especially during harvest season which requires them to work long hours in the fields. The programme provides nutritious food, yoga and dance classes, help with homework and so on. The programme has, over a sustained period of time shown reduced school drop-out rates for labour.

            – Sanitation: Collaboration with non-governmental organizationsand various government departments to establish and improve sanitation facilities, along with awareness and information on the necessity and health benefits of using toilet facilities. GPI works towards facilitating easier access to government funds earmarked for building toilets in every home. Apart from this, additional funds are provided to meet any shortages in actual building cost. More importantly, awareness is created on the importance of having and using toilets and the impact on health in the long run.

            – Health: Due to poverty, particularly among small land holders, health and nutrition fall prey to neglect, both for the farmer and his family. Free medical check ups and over the counter medicines are provided in areas that demonstrate this need. Awareness and education initiatives work towards helping farmers understand the importance of health in the long run.

            – RO centres: An initiative by GPI, the scheme provides community ROs in various villages so farmers and their families can have access to clean and potable water. This helps overcome the side-effects caused by consuming fluoride contaminated water – a consistent problem in the tobacco growing regions in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

Ecological and farming sustainability: Reducing the environmental impact of tobacco production remains a key priority for organizations. Hinged on the awareness that climate change would affect the tobacco cultivation community, the focus is on ensuring clean water and healthy un-depleted soil.Collaboration with local communities and international organizations have made international tobacco companies join hands to ensure good environmental management and sustainability. From more effective farming techniques to safe storage to better waste & water management, the push is to effectively reduce the overall carbon footprint of tobacco production and the impact on the environment. Specifically in India, GPI helps in desilting of ponds and farm tanks to increase fertility by using removed soil from the bottom of a pond as top soil for farming.

Better production systems: Tobacco companies have worked closely with farmers to establish integrated production systems to ensure improvement in product quality and yield. These globally followed systems are largely implemented in countries across Asia, Africa and South America to improve production, control fluctuating pricing and better yields and quality of leaf. With increased access to inputs and technical advice, tobacco growers are benefitting in areas of product and pricing.

Other than this, issues like improving biodiversity in ecosystems, creating profitable and future ready farms, harm reduction in products, environmental management and protecting rights of migrant workers continue to shape the vision towards making tobacco cultivation and production more sustainable, inclusive and less impactful in the climate.