Embracing sustainability in tobacco agriculture

2017-06-20 16:00

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In Sub-Saharan Africa, farming represents a subsistence lifestyle for millions of people. In recent years though, the development of farming into an economic activity has made a real change in the way the land is used in providing for the needs of the population. Not only is the land able to provide food security, crops can be used to generate much needed income to improve living conditions and provide for education.

Each year, Philip Morris International purchases 400 000 tonnes of tobacco leaf from about 500 000 farmers in over 30 countries. The majority of the tobacco is grown on small-scale farms of two hectares or less.  This makes it one of the largest tobacco purchasers globally.

In Southern Africa, most of the tobacco is sourced and purchased in Malawi, where Philip Morris South Africa has been promoting the growth of high quality tobacco under conditions which protect the environment and which encourage sustainable agricultural practices. To help achieve these goals, PMI developed the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) programme to assess the processes on farms from which it sources its tobacco and to identify opportunities for improvement.

PMI is committed to promoting Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) that support the growing of tobacco in a sustainable manner, while benefiting the communities involved and managing the natural resources responsibly.

These GAP standards are organised around three focus areas: crops, environment and people. In Africa, PMI sources tobacco through leaf suppliers which are independent companies that have supply contracts with the farmers. The suppliers have structures in place to support and guide the farmers in line with the GAP standards and the implementation of those guidelines is compulsory for the suppliers.

The relationship between the suppliers and the farmers is known as the Integrated Production System (IPS) which in effect gives the farmers a commitment by the suppliers to purchase their volumes at an agreed price. Part of the process includes advice on agricultural practices, access to fertilisers and certified seeds and food packages. At the same time the system addresses the issue of child labour and environmental stewardship and sustainability.

The benefits of this system is that smaller farmers have improved income and food security as they get access to credit and cash advances so that growers can buy maize before the tobacco crops are sold.

Mthunduwatha Joshua, an IPS farmer in Kasungu in Malawi  explains, “being productive is all that one needs to succeed.” She started production in 2007 and has managed to construct a house with electricity from the proceeds of selling ten bales of tobacco of 100kg  each.

In addition to a small collection of livestock, and the 20 kg maize seed package of four bags of fertiliser, she was able to produce enough maize for all of her family.  “In this village, I believe I am an example to other women,” she adds.

In the village of Mchinji, Gilberta Chimtowe explains how she makes use of “live barns.” With live barns, the upright poles used in the construction are replaced by live trees, which are grown in situ, on the farms. This reduces the deforestation pressure on forests, reduces wood use, and barns undergo annual repairs rather than annual replacement. She currently maintains a forest of more than 200 trees.

The projects in Africa are an illustration of how tobacco farming can be conducted to improve agronomy practices, provide opportunities for better food security, and to enhance farmers’ productivity. 

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