PESHAWAR: As Pakistan grapples with a worsening food crisis exacerbated by the 2022 floods and the Ukraine-Russia war’s impact on the global food supply chain, experts are urging a shift from tobacco cultivation to crop farming to address pressing issues of food insecurity and public health risks.
According to Waheed Ahmad, Patron-in-Chief of the Pakistan Fruits and Vegetable Importers and Exporters Association (PFVA), the National Nutrition Survey in 2018 revealed that 36.9 percent of the population faced food insecurity in the country. The devastating floods of 2022 further intensified the crisis, plunging an additional 2.5 million people into extreme hunger, bringing the total to 8.6 million.
Ahmad said that despite being an agrarian country, Pakistan is importing various food items, including essentials like wheat, pulses, chickpeas, garlic, and ginger. He warned that any restrictions on food shipments could worsen the situation. The shortage is exacerbated by difficulties in obtaining Letter of Credits (LCs) from banks due to a dollar shortage.
‘Grow Food, Not Tobacco’
To address the dual challenges of food insecurity and health risks, Ahmad endorsed the proposal to convert tobacco farming into crop cultivation. He also suggested capitalizing on the theme of World No Tobacco Day for 2023, which is “Grow Food, Not Tobacco.”
Taimoor Khan, General Secretary of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Association for Excellence in Agriculture, proposed converting half of the 30,000 hectares of tobacco farming in KP into cultivating a new garlic variety, NARC G1. According to Khan, farmers could significantly increase earnings and profits by transitioning to garlic farming.
Khan dismissed the claim that tobacco farming contributes significantly to the country’s economy, arguing that the economic cost of tobacco consumption, estimated at Rs. 615 billion, outweighs the annual revenue generation of Rs. 120 billion in taxes.
International climate change expert Aftab Alam Khan stressed the transformative potential of shifting from tobacco to food production. He highlighted the environmental damage caused by tobacco cultivation, including soil degradation and fertility loss due to heavy pesticide and fertilizer use.
While supporting the initiative, Khan emphasized the need for government policies and incentives to encourage farmers to transition away from tobacco cultivation. Dr. Taj Muhammad, Communication Officer of the Pakistan Chest Society, echoed the importance of tobacco control measures for public health, citing surveys that indicate a significant number of adults use tobacco in various forms in Pakistan.