From the beginning, the initiative has been closely monitored by civil society organisations worldwide, which have identified several issues with the NAFSN. Governments are forced to implement reforms in order to gain increased investment through the programme. The liberalisation of farmland opens the door to land grabbing, leaving smallholder farmers without their most important means of production.
As a result, the NAFSN favours big agribusiness over smallholder farmers, who produce more than 70 percent of the world’s food. In this light, the programme is not consistent with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Goals.
Malawi is a densely populated country with 35.8 percent of its population undernourished. At the same time, the country is highly dependent on tobacco exports, which generate roughly 50 percent of the total export revenues. Malawi is the world’s top exporter of Burley tobacco and not a Party to the FCTC.
Under the European Union, the NAFSN in Malawi includes, on the pretext of improved food security, an increase in tobacco growing in terms both of yield per hectare and in area cultivated. Furthermore, the programme co-operates with subsidiaries of the world’s leading two leaf tobacco merchants: Alliance One Malawi (AOM) and Limbe Leaf Tobacco Company (LLTC).
According to the 2014 progress report, AOM seeks, inter alia, to increase the production of flue-cured Virginia tobacco six-fold and to nearly double Burley tobacco production. Additionally, the company plans to triple its area under cultivation, for tobacco as well as for maize and soya.
LLTC basically intends to further the transformation of the tobacco growing sector in Malawi from the auction system to the integrated production system. By directly contracting farmers, the company gains control over the whole production cycle and is able to exert its power when it comes to grade leaf tobacco and to set prices.
Another company, Mpatsa Farms Ltd., planned to venture into fish farming and rice cultivation, cotton, soya and maize. In 2014, the company acknowledged it gave up those plans instead channelling resources to tobacco growing “due to preferential prices”.
Thus, the NAFSN has reinforced Malawi’s dependence on tobacco exports. It endangers food security and increases poverty among smallholder and tenant farmers. Even the former Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, reported the extremely precarious conditions of tobacco tenants in Malawi after his visit in 2013.
Apart from threatening food security, instead of furthering it, the participation of tobacco companies in NAFSN is used by tobacco industry-funded front groups like the International Tobacco Growers’ Association (ITGA) to promote their crop. Newly elected ITGA vice president Reuben Maigwa, from Malawi, even claimed the industry’s integrated production system would lead to sustainable tobacco growing and food security.
In a country where one-third of the population is undernourished, it is absurd and cynical to promote tobacco growing instead of switching to food crops. If Malawi were to use all its tobacco cultivation area to grow food, the harvest could feed 750,000 people.
The participation of tobacco companies in NAFSN only serves the industry’s commercial interests, including boosting their image as a responsible industry, which is promoted in the fight against tobacco control measures. Therefore, FCTC Article 5.3 must also be implemented in development policies in order to achieve more policy coherence for a sustainable future.
Sonja von Eichborn Director, Unfairtobacco.org