Cancer Association reacts to tobacco farm project

It is with great dismay that I have learnt, through the media (!), of Cabinet’s approval for the development of a tobacco farm in the Republic of Namibia.
Per official communication on 2 June 2018 (ref: 28/06/2018/001) addressed to the Office or the President, Prime Minister, Minister of Health and Social Services and Minister of Land Reform, the Cancer Association of Namibia (WO30) requested reconsideration and the decline of the application by “Namibia Oriental Tobacco CC” and /or any other party for the agreement of land to be availed and subsequent development of a tobacco plantation in the Zambezi Region.
Citing concerns but not limited to those listed below, my office requested due reconsideration on the matter, not only as a tobacco plantation has severe consequences on the environment, but also our people. Moreover, it is legally in contravention of World Health Organization (WHO) agreements concluded.
Not only does such a venture infringe on the heart of the Namibian Tobacco Control Act of 2010 that has impacted our people positively and awarded Namibia great international recognition on this (the global tobacco control) front; given the general statistics of tobacco-related health issues both globally and locally, we remain of the conviction that allowing a tobacco farm in Namibia sets a negative precedent.”
On 5 September 2018, the Right Honourable Prime Minister of the Republic of Namibia, Mrs. Saara Kuugon-gelwa-Amadhila, in writing confirmed that “The Government has an open door policy and has, as a standard practice, met and received presentations from different people on the matter”, while further directing that the proposal of the tobacco plantation lies in the hands of a Cabinet Standing Committee under the leadership of its appointed chairperson, Hon Obeth Kondjoze, Minister of Economic Planning and Director General of the National Planning Commission.
Per official response on 11 September 2018, the former Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Bernard Haufiku (citing 5 health and economic reasons) confirmed that “We, (the Ministry of Health and Social Service) do not support the planting of tobacco as proposed by Namibia Oriental Tobacco and supported by some members of the executive”.
The Cancer Association of Namibia stands firmly by our conviction, taking an evidence-based stance on the matter:
Tobacco plantations/ production have serious negative consequences on the worker’s health, social wellbeing and economy as well as the devastating effect on the environment.
Deforestation for tobacco growing has serious environmental consequences – including loss of biodiversity, soil erosion and degradation, water pollution and increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Tobacco growing usually involves substantial use of chemicals – including loss of growth regulators. These chemicals may affect drinking water sources as a result of run-off from tobacco growing areas. Research has also shown that tobacco crops deplete soil nutrients by taking up more nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium than other major crops. This depletion is compounded by topping and de suckering plants, which increase the nicotine content and leaf yields of tobacco plants.
Land used for subsistence farming in low- and middle-income countries may be divert-ed to tobacco as a cash crop. As a consequence of expanded tobacco agriculture, there are short-term economic benefits for farmers, but there will be long-term social, economic, health and environmental detriments on the larger scale.
-WHO bulletin/ volumes/93/12/15-1562744/en – “The environmental and health impacts of tobacco agriculture, cigarette manufacture and consumption”, Thomas E Novotny, Stella Aguinaga Bialous, Lindsay Burt, Clifton Curtis, Vera Luiza da Costa, Silvae Usman Iqtidar, Yuchen Liu, Sameer Pujari & Edouard Tursan d’Espaignet, et al.
All these are key elements to reach the Sustainable Development Goals that Namibia has ascribed to meet, and through this decision to allow tobacco farming in our country, the government has ipso facto signed a death warrant for this dream.
In light of the wide-spread consequences this decision holds, the Cancer Association of Namibia vehemently condemns the decision by Cabinet to clear approximately 10 000 hectares of natural wood-land in the Zambezi Region for the purpose of tobacco plantation and production.
This decision is not only a health and natural dis-aster waiting to happen but is also against the World Health Organisation (WHO) Frame-work Convention on Tobacco Control that Namibia legally agreed on February 2006. It is also directly in contravention of Article 17 and 18 of WHO Framework and Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC) (see copy thereof attach-ed):
“Article 17: Provision of support for economically viable alternative activities: Parties shall, in cooperation with each other and with competent international and regional inter-govern-mental organization, promote, as appropriate, economically viable alternative for tobacco workers, growers and, as the case may be, individual sellers.”
“Article 18: Protection of the environment and the health of persons: In carrying out their obligations under this Convention, the Parties agree to have due regard to the protection of the environment and the health of persons in relation to the environment in respect of tobacco cultivation and manufacture within their respective territories.”
As gatekeeper of health pertaining to cancer we beg that Cabinet rethink this decision
Yours in health

Rolf-Jurgen Hansen

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