As the anti-tobacco lobby often accuses tobacco merchants to push “sustainability” merely for the purpose of justifying “trading in a dangerous product”. Tobacco Asia took the liberty of confronting the contributors to this story, asking them whether their sustainability programs are really nothing more than a means to an end to placate industry opponents. Unsurprisingly, all respondents strongly rejected the suggestion, insisting that their support of sustainable tobacco production is based on honest intentions.
“From seed to carton, it is our responsibility to manage and invest in our operations to maximize efficiencies and minimize risks,” said Alliance One International’s Jose Maria Costa.. The changes that we make in the process ultimately lead to improving the stability and livelihoods of our contracted farmer families and their communities, our employees and our company, while also improving the quality of our product and reducing our impact on the environment.
That point of view was largely shared by Contraf-Nicotex-Tobacco’s Ian Duvenage, but he also admitted that increased public awareness of leaf companies’ sustainability efforts can indeed “be perceived as ‘jumping on the sustainability train’”, although they’re essentially grounded in sound business sense. But as a matter of fact, sustainability programs “…add impetus to the holistic positive return throughout the supply chain,” he continued, “starting from better custody of the environment to better training, safety and growing practices for the farmers to improved yields for farmers, merchants, manufacturers and shareholders and ultimately to higher consumer satisfaction at the end of the chain.” Duvenage also said he was aware that the industry would continue to receive negative coverage and that the anti-tobacco lobby’s “portrayal of greenwashing and band wagons” is going to persist. “But this should not undermine the efforts that are being put in by organizations and individual stakeholders… because they are the beneficiaries allowed to reap the positives.”
Meanwhile, Star Tobacco International’s Iqbal Lambat opined that one needs to be careful to distinguish between “lip service sustainability” and “step change sustainability”. “Some leaf merchants feel that they have satisfied their sustainability conscience by donating a part of profits to community facilities such as schools or medical centers.” Yet such profit donations – without concerted efforts at implementing a wholesome sustainability program – could not constitute a “game changer” for farming communities. Lambat also harshly lashed out at tobacco industry opponents, particularly FCTC under WHO. “It is easy for these folks to practice ‘arm chair economics’ from the coziness of an office in Geneva, far away from the realities of life encountered by a [smallholder] tobacco farmer in Malawi, for instance, who is being asked to drop tobacco and seek an ‘alternative crop’. There is no alternative crop in Malawi, where burley tobacco has been cultivated for over 100 years. Or consider the 105,000 farmers in Zimbabwe who only know how to grow tobacco…,” he said.