At a time when efforts were underway to identify a suitable alternative crop for tobacco, which is linked to cancer and cardiovascular diseases among other ailments, Antardhwani, an independent think tank of HCG-Bharat Hospital and Institute of Oncology (BHIO), is steering a project under which tobacco farmers had switched to growing sandalwood.
In the tobacco-growing belt of Hunsur in Mysuru district, about 50 farmers, who were ready to pledge one acre of their land for the project, had been given 15,000 high-grade sandalwood saplings and over 8,000 saplings of lucrative seasonal fruits.
Antardhwani has joined forces with agronomists, ecologists, medical practitioners, and other relevant experts to guide decision-making. Though farmers were willing to switch, tobacco growers in Karnataka had not been able to do so in the absence of an economically viable alternative plan. And Antardhwani showed them the way, said oncologist and Executive Chairman of HCG-BHIO Dr. B .S Ajaikumar.
Dr. Ajaikumar said they have received positive feedback from the farmers involved in the project. Apart from the satisfaction over the revenue the initiative is generating for them, the farmers have informed them that their health has also improved. “It is showing on their faces with a marked reduction in the inflammation and redness otherwise seen on their faces,” he said.
Now, the Antardhwani is looking to expand the project from the present 50 farmers to around 500 while the area will also increase correspondingly.
Seeking to explain why a cancer hospital was involved in fighting tobacco, Dr. Ajaikumar said he was tired of seeing cases of head and neck cancers, whose cause was identified to be consumption of tobacco. “The solution is to ban tobacco. But, if you can’t ban it, you can at least reduce it,” he said.
Statistics shared by Antardhwani project a rosy future for tobacco farmers shifting to growing sandalwood. While one kg of Flue Cured Virginia (FCV) tobacco fetches the farmer anywhere between ₹150 to 250, one kg of sandalwood will yield anywhere between ₹25,000 to 30,000, depending on the quality and age of the tree.
Shifting to economically renewable alternative crops will be a win-win situation for the farmers. For, they will only help save the lakhs of lives that are lost every year in the country on account of tobacco consumption, but also earn more from their farms, according to Antardhwani.