The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has sanctioned Rs2.17 crore to Central Tobacco Research Institute (CTRI), Rajahmundhry, to undertake a pilot project on ''Alternative cropping system to bidi and chewing tobacco,'' in a bid to help tobacco farmers grow alternate profitable crops to reduce tobacco grown in the country.
The pilot project will take place at Nandyal (A.P.), Anand (Gujarat), Dharmaj (Gujarat), Nipani (Karnataka), Vedasandur (Tamil Nadu) and Dinhata (West Bengal).
The initiative was taken after consultation with Indian Council of Agriculture of Research and Central Tobacco Research Institute, Rajahmundhry.
The pilot project is aimed to establish viable, sustainable and alternatives to bidi/chewing tobacco crops. This pilot will be for a period of 3 years in different agro-ecological sub-regions.
Sugarcane, vegetables, garlic, maize, fruits, pepper, cotton, sweet potato are some of the alternative crops proposed to be cultivated by the tobacco growing farmers.
In India, earlier studies have found that turmeric, onion, potato, garlic, mustard, sugarcane are also good alternative crops to chewing tobacco crop. Cotton, maize, sunflower, groundnut, soyabean, chilies are good alternatives to bidi tobacco crops.
The pilot project will also look at challenges that the farmers are likely to face during the process of transition including issues of market support; agriculture research among others.
The project will be appraised by ministry of health and family welfare, on yearly basis and it is hoped that the result of the project will help facilitate the tobacco farmers to shift from chewing/bidi tobacco to other equally profitable alternatives. This will ultimately result in reduction in tobacco grown in the country in the long run.
India is the third largest producer of tobacco in the world after China and Brazil and second largest consumer of tobacco, only next to China.
In India 40 per cent of all cancers are due to tobacco use and as per the tobacco control report every year 8-9 lakh Indians die because of tobacco related disease.
The tobacco is grown and used for manufacturing cigarettes, bidi and chewing forms mainly. India accounts for more than 85 per cent of the world's bidi production.
As per the 2002 data, bidi tobacco occupied around 30 per cent of the total area under tobacco cultivation and 33 per cent of the total tobacco production in the country. In 1997, the total land area under the bidi crop was 137.2(000 ha) and the production stood at 190.7 million kg.
As per the estimates of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 290,000 people are involved in growing bidi tobacco and presently 2,634,000 people are employed in bidi sector, however as per the IMRB (1996) report 5.5 million people get employment in bidi sector which includes, cultivation, processing, manufacture, wholesale trade and retail.
About 74 per cent of dependent employment is in bidi manufacture and 76 per cent of bidi makers are women and they also constitute 44 per cent of the total labour force engaged in bidi tobacco cultivation.
In addition, bidi industry directly supports nearly 2.2 million tribal people who are engaged in plucking and sale of tendu leaves. Bidi tobacco cultivation is labour intensive in nature, as per various studies carried out, the number of mandays spent in cultivation of bidi tobacco crop ranges from 144 to 241 days per hectare per year.
The bidi and chewing tobacco crops are not supported by Tobacco board/MSP. As per the obligations under WHO-FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) and as an established strategy to reduce the supply of tobacco, extensive research to find the alternate crops for tobacco is needed.
There have been a few focal studies on this subject in the country. However evidence base is required to take up alternate corps on a larger scale so that the profit and gain to tobacco farmers is not compromised.
There are arguments that bidis are equally or more harmful than cigarettes because the nicotine content in bidi tobacco is higher than in FCV tobacco. In addition to the health care costs of tobacco consumption, there are health costs associated with tobacco cultivation and production.
Studies carried out in India have revealed that labourers who work in the field, particularly during harvesting, are affected by contact with the leaves and nicotine absorption.