Butting Out Tobacco

Live Project: May 2019 - May 2021


IHDUA is partnering with HCG, Asia’s largest cancer care hospital network, to help Indian tobacco farmers make the switch to people-friendly crops. Beginning in May 2019, we are enlisting the expertise of agronomists, ecologists, economists and health experts to guide 12 tobacco farmers on their path to adopting alternative crops that are healthy, environmentally responsible and economically viable.

As part of this project, we are producing a documentary that will be used to spread awareness among Indian tobacco farmers about the alternatives available to them, and to destroy the notion that tobacco is the only crop they can grow.

Tobacco's Heavy Toll on India

More than 1.3 million people die of tobacco use every year in India. The country, which is the second largest consumer of tobacco in the world, accounts for almost half of all oral cancers, and also has a high incidence of associated respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. If current trends continue, tobacco will account for 13% of all deaths in India by 2020.

India is also the third largest producer of tobacco in the world, with the states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh accounting for almost 80% of total production. For this reason, tobacco remains the single most widely available addictive substance, and can be easily purchased anywhere.

There is a steep cost to growing so much tobacco: in Karnataka alone more than 700,000 tons of firewood are consumed annually to cure raw tobacco leaves. Some of this wood is extracted directly from delicate rainforest habitats.

Today, more than 28% of Indians regularly consume some form of tobacco. If we are to reduce this figure, tobacco farmers themselves must be included in the solution.

In May 2019 these tobacco farmers will plant alternative crops for the first time.

Finding Viable Alternatives for Tobacco Growers

Many Indian tobacco farmers understand that tobacco use causes substantial harm to human health, and they struggle with the moral dilemma of bringing such a crop to market. However, economic necessity, institutional encouragement and tradition have made it extremely difficult for them to shift away from growing tobacco. In spite of this, our research has found that a sizeable portion of tobacco farmers in Karnataka is ready to adopt proven alternative crops.

To that end, IHDUA is partnering with HCG, Asia’s largest cancer care specialist hospital network, in a two-year program that will empower a pilot cohort of 12 farmers to make the switch from tobacco to crops that are people-friendly, environmentally sustainable and economically viable.

Twelve tobacco-farming families from Hunsur, in the heart of Karnataka’s tobacco-growing region, have each committed one acre of farmland—some 25% of their land holdings—for growing non-tobacco cash crops. Together, we will identify viable alternatives that provide earning parity or even superior returns over tobacco. We will then track their progress from planting to harvest. During the course of this project we plan to identify one or more models for phasing out tobacco cultivation that can be replicated by farmers elsewhere.

We are joining forces with agronomists, ecologists, medical practitioners and other relevant experts to guide decision-making at every step of the process. At the same time, we will explore the phenomenon of tobacco cultivation in India from a holistic perspective in order to fully understand its impact on farmers, the environment and society.

Our Project Managers

Seethalakshmi S.

Seethalakshmi is a seven-time award winner for excellence in journalism and has written more than two thousand articles, news features and interviews across different subjects during her years at the Times of India. Before joining Antardhwani, she was the City Editor (Bengaluru) at The Times of India until November 2017. Seethalakshmi was also a recipient of the IVLP scholarship from the US State Department.

Rahul Nandan

Rahul is a journalist with a decade of experience in various Indian national newspapers such as The Times of India, The Indian Express and The Statesman. He was the deputy news editor on the special projects team of The Times of India (Delhi and Bengaluru). Rahul was among seven journalists selected in India by the US State Department for the foreign press reporting tour on emerging women entrepreneurs in America.

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