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Farmers reject FCTC ratification

Tobacco farmers in Sumber Pinang village, Pakusari district, Jember, East Java, have expressed their opposition to the government’s plan to ratify the UN Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), saying they lacked options if forced to transition to other crops.

After years of resisting ratification of the UN convention, the Health Ministry recently announced that the government would formally adopt the convention after Idul Fitri.

A farmer, Abdurahman, said he was worried about the enforcement of the plan, as demand for the Kasturi variety of tobacco in Jember had dropped dramatically from last year.

While tobacco fields in the region covered a total area of 6,400 hectares in 2015, the planting area this year, according to estimates, has shrunk to only 4,700 ha. Reduced planting activity is also attributed to declining interest of farmers in growing tobacco.

“This is because of the continued intense interference of foreign NGOs on tobacco issues and in the tobacco industry in Indonesia,” said the leader of the Jember Kasturi Tobacco Growers Association.

He was referring to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which revealed that thousands of children in Indonesia were exposed to hazardous conditions on tobacco farms where they work as laborers.

According to Abdurahman, various tobacco-related regulations adopted in line with global norms are not suitable to conditions on tobacco plantations in the country. He cited the ban against children employed in tobacco growing activities as an alien concept in Indonesia. He said tobacco farming in Indonesia would slowly die due to such regulations, because the younger generation would no longer be interested in planting tobacco, and domestic tobacco demand would be met by imports.

Suwarno, another Kasturi tobacco farmer from the village of Nogosari in Balung district, Jember, expressed similar concerns.

Various strict rules had been applied by companies wishing to buy tobacco from farmers. The farmers had to abide by the rules if they wanted their tobacco to be bought.

“I totally agree with East Java Governor Soekarwo’s stance to firmly reject intervention by foreign NGOs that are making efforts to regulate the marketing of tobacco in Indonesia,” said Suwarno.

Last week in Surabaya, Soekarwo strongly rejected efforts by NGOs lobbying the government to ratify the FCTC. He asked the foreign NGOs not to interfere in tobacco issues in Indonesia, especially in East Java.

“No, no. They don’t have any business here. Tobacco is the life of the people of East Java. Why should we be regulated by foreign NGOs. Let foreign NGOs take care of their own matters,” said Soekarwo.

Indonesian Tobacco Farmers Association (APTI) head Soeseno has also expressed support for Soekarwo. According to him, within the guidelines of the FCTC, there were some excessive provisions that could shut down the entire tobacco industry in Indonesia.

“If Indonesia ratifies the FCTC, we have to switch from planting tobacco. The wellbeing of around 2 million tobacco farmers and millions of tobacco workers across Indonesia will be threatened. Up until now, there is no other commodity with profits like tobacco, and generally, only tobacco can be grown on dry land during the dry season,” said Soeseno.

He deemed FCTC a hidden agenda by foreign parties to kill off the tobacco industry relied upon by more than 6 million people in Indonesia. The tobacco industry was the third largest contributor to taxes in 2015 at Rp 173.9 trillion (US$13.2 billion).

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