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Tobacco crops leave farmers mired in poverty and debt

ALEX Flett is right to raise concerns over the impact of growing tobacco in developing countries (Letters, January 30).

As Scotland's charity taking action on tobacco and health, we are all too aware of the disastrous effects tobacco farming has on land, life and health in these countries.

The tobacco industry argues that it brings economic benefits to tobacco-growing countries. In fact the majority of profits go to the companies, while, as the World Health Organisation points out, tobacco farmers often become trapped in a cycle of poverty and debt. Farmers are forced by tobacco companies to enter into contracts to buy seeds, fertilizer and technical advice and sell their product at a set fee lower than the cost of production.

The tobacco crop's labour-intensive nature means it requires large amounts of pesticides and fertilizers, which farmers must buy in advance at great cost. Should crops fail the farmers themselves are liable to cover these costs. This doesn't even take into account the level of damage these chemicals cause when they end up in the soil, waterways, and the food chain. Child labour is also common, with poor families dependent on their children working on tobacco farms from an early age.

After being considered a cash crop for many years, the World Bank, as far back as 1992, stopped giving loans for growing tobacco. A cost-benefit analysis shows that the short-term gains are likely to be offset by long-term costs for developing countries. Estimates suggest that tobacco farming requires 3000 hours of labour per hectare per year to maintain. In comparison food crops like beans and maize require 298 hours and 265 hours respectively. The tobacco industry peddles a deadly and addictive product without a care for its consumers. Why should we believe it treats its producers any better?

Sheila Duffy,

Chief executive, ASH Scotland,

8 Frederick Street, Edinburgh.

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