Experts in nutrition, agriculture, and the environment are urging Pakistan to replace tobacco cultivation with staple crops. They argue that this transition would not only alleviate the food insecurity faced by over a third of the population but also bring additional benefits.
According to Pakistan’s national nutrition survey data, 36.9% of the population experienced food insecurity in 2018. Moreover, the devastating floods and the Russo-Ukrainian conflict contributed to 2.5 million people falling into hunger within the country, as reported by the Pakistan Fruit and Vegetable Exporters, Importers, and Merchants Association (PFVA).
Currently, Pakistan heavily relies on imported food such as wheat, soybeans, chickpeas, garlic, and ginger due to a scarcity of foreign currency. However, importers are facing difficulties in obtaining letters of credit.
In light of this situation, Waheed Ahmad, the Director of the Family Grain Bureau, is urging policymakers to embrace this year’s World No Tobacco Day theme of “Grow food, not tobacco.”
Tobacco cultivation plays a crucial role in the local economy of all four provinces of Kabul-Pul-i-Pokhta province, where approximately 30,000 hectares of tobacco are cultivated. Taimur Khan, Secretary of the Prominent Agriculture Association in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, suggests that farmers could earn significant profits by cultivating the new variety of garlic, NARC G1, on half of this area.
However, concerns have been raised about the economic contribution of tobacco cultivation, which generates an annual income of 120 billion Pakistani rupees (approximately $416.24 million). It is worth noting that the cost required to address the health impacts of tobacco consumption is three times higher than tobacco taxes.
Aftab Alam Khan, CEO of the International Organization for a Sustainable Future, believes that transitioning tobacco cultivation to food production can have a ripple effect. This change would promote food security, improve public health, contribute to the overall well-being of communities, and benefit the environment.
According to data from the National Health Service department in 2018, Pakistan currently has nearly 23.9 million adults who use tobacco in any form.
Critics of the industry argue that the notion of “growing crops, not tobacco” creates a false dichotomy, as they believe that tobacco and crop production are not mutually exclusive.