Tobacco Farmers call for strengthened tobacco control in Indonesia

The Indonesia Multicultural Farmers Forum – formed in 2018 with support from The Union and the Muhammadiyah Tobacco Control Support Centre, University of Magelang – has called on the Indonesian government to create a comprehensive tobacco control policy to reduce tobacco deaths in the country.

At the first Indonesia Multicultural Farmers National meeting, held in Magelang, Indonesia from 18-19 November, the farmers referenced the 200,000 deaths caused by tobacco in the country each year, and expressed concerns around the technical difficulty of growing tobacco and the detrimental health effects caused by farming the crop.

The Forum is the first of its kind in Indonesia, comprising around 40 current and ex-tobacco farmers from Central Java, East Java and West Nusa Tenggara regions. The group is a support network for farmers and provides guidance on moving to alternative crop growing.

The Forum also aims to combat tobacco industry attempts to use tobacco farmers’ livelihoods as an argument against the implementation of strong tobacco control policies. The meeting was called in response to opposition from farmers and tobacco industry front groups regarding the recent increase in tobacco taxation.

“We understand that tobacco consumption through smoking risks people’s rights to live a healthy life. This especially concerns groups such as children, teenagers, and people with low-income,” said Istanto, Chairman of the Indonesia Multicultural Farmers Forum. “One of the ways to protect the younger generation is by supporting the government’s plan to increase the prices of cigarettes. If taxes go up, it will automatically increase its prices so children would not be able to buy them.”

The Forum has urged the Indonesian government to: follow the increase in excise tax on tobacco with policies to diversify agricultural commodities to improve opportunities for tobacco farmers; support this diversification by providing agricultural training and other support to farmers moving to alternative crops; implement other policies such as smokefree legislation and bans on tobacco advertisement, promotion and sponsorship, to protect the younger generation from the harms of tobacco.

“The Union welcomes this stand taken by the Indonesia Multicultural Farmers Forum,” said Dr Tara Singh Bam, Deputy Director for the Asia Pacific region at The Union.

“The reality is that tobacco farmers generally do not rely on only one crop. Tobacco farming is done for five months of each year on average, and the rest of the time other crops such as rice and vegetables can be grown. Studies have shown that tobacco farming is not as profitable or reliable as other crops as it is dependent on weather, and closely controlled and monopolised by the tobacco industry. Therefore, local and central government must support and encourage tobacco farmers to switch to more sustainable crops.”

The Union has supported national and local partners in Indonesia since 2007, providing technical assistance in tobacco control policy formulation, and supporting policy implementation at national and subnational levels by engaging government, civil society, academics, the media and the general public. The Union has also increased political will to strengthen tobacco control by establishing the Asia Pacific Cities Alliance for Tobacco Control and NCDs Prevention, building capacity and knowledge of stakeholders, and preventing tobacco industry interference in policy. 

The Union will continue to support the Indonesia Multicultural Farmers Forum and the Government of Indonesia to strengthen tobacco control in the country.

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