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Africa Tobacco Growers Fight Anti-Smoking Initiative

FILE - Indigenous tobacco farmers are seen at Boka Tobacco auction floors, in Harare, Zimbabwe, Tuesday May 14, 2013.

FILE - Indigenous tobacco farmers are seen at Boka Tobacco auction floors, in Harare, Zimbabwe, Tuesday May 14, 2013.

The International Tobacco Growers Association says it will fight moves by the World Health Organization and some African nations to discourage smoking, saying the campaign has economic consequences. The association has been meeting with African tobacco farmers in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare.

After a three-day meeting in Harare, the president of the International Tobacco Growers Association, Francois van der Merwe, told VOA that the anti-tobacco campaign would result in the economy of some countries crashing as they depend heavily on the leaf.

“The anti-tobacco lobby is very vocal, very extreme and very out of touch lobby," said van der Merwe. "They have one thing in mind and that is to damage the tobacco industry. The best thing for them is to start working with the tobacco industry so that they can understand the tobacco industry. By extreme measures we will damage the industry which makes huge contributions all around the world.”

In Zimbabwe, tobacco is overwhelmingly the main cash crop. This year, it expects to export more than $600 million worth of tobacco, mainly to China.

The World Food Program says that farmers’ reliance on tobacco has contributed to the country’s food shortages.

Farmers shun staple crops such as maize and favor tobacco, which they call “golden leaf” despite the hazards of smoking and the calls for anti-smoking campaigns by the WHO.

That explains why Norman Chakanetsa, a tobacco farmer and a government official, is totally against the idea of a strong anti-smoking campaign. I asked him what would happen to Zimbabwe if demand for tobacco significantly dropped.

“Tobacco is very important for the economy and we earn a lot of money from tobacco," said Chakanetsa. "If it falls, we need something that takes that slack that would have been created by that fall. It will actually affect the revenue to the fiscus (treasury) and the livelihood of the people and the standard of living… We will have difficult economic times.”

The International Tobacco Growers Association says that a total of 24 million Africans across 15 countries depend on the tobacco industry for their livelihood.

It is for this reason that the association says it will make its voice heard at an upcoming international conference on tobacco control, taking place this October in Moscow.

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