Gujarat's tobacco farmers fear a bleak future

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Ahmedabad, Nov.9 : Gujarat, a hub of tobacco production, is today a major raw material provider to Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala in the country.

About 70 per cent of the population in Anand, Kheda, Vadodara, Sabarkantha and Banaskantha districts of Gujarat is connected to this unorganized sector.

But a sense of uncertainty prevails among the tobacco growers of Gujarat, following the Indian health ministry's directive on mandatory pictorial warnings on all tobacco products from December 1.

Government's directive has put a question mark on the livelihood of a majority of the crisis-ridden Gujarat tobacco industry.

The prescribed statutory warning is likely to affect not only manufacturers but also farmers and daily wagers.

"We produce at least two million tons of tobacco which is grown in about 15 million hectares of land. About 50,000 farmers and 500,000 labourers are employed in this region with the industry. The government's decision will hit hundreds of thousands of people. We don't have any alternative profession other than this. Does government have no other policy to control the situation. This decision will render people jobless," said Bhikabhai Patel, the President of Kheda District Farmers Association.

Forty five-year-old Patel is a farmer who produces an average of 800 quintals of tobacco per annum. For the last two years, because of the weather condition, the average production has gone down by 30 per cent. The price has increased with an average of Rs.1125- 1300 per 20 kg. But the global economic recession has begun to take a toll on the industry.

"We can not grow anything else here, as tobacco is grown only here. We all labourers earn our livelihood from tobacco," said Patel, Farmers' President.

In five districts of Gujarat, at least 80 per cent of the region is under tobacco cultivation.

"There are 2,000 processing units in five districts of Gujarat. Each unit has 25-50 people. When demand and production goes down, unemployment is bound to increase", said Piyush Kumar, a tobacco merchant.

The people in the industry opine that fate of hundreds of thousands of labourers is at stake due to the latest directives for tobacco industry.

Gujarat produces an average of 20 million kilogram of Tobacco as compared to the other states with an average total of 10 million kilogram every year. By Ami Sharma

ANI

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