Cancer hospital’s initiative to help tobacco farmers grow alternative crops

File photo for representation

File photo for representation | Photo Credit: M.A. Sriram

A cancer hospital has taken the initiative to come up with an alternative farming project in Hunsur, one of the tobacco-growing hubs in the Mysuru region, which encourages tobacco farmers to grow sandalwood and other seasonal fruits.

Sharing the details ahead of the World No Tobacco Day on May 31, the Chairman of HCG, a network of cancer care hospitals, Dr. B. S. Ajaikumar said the project covers a total of 50 acres in the first phase, involving 50 tobacco farmers, each of whom had pledged one acre each of their land for growing sandalwood and other seasonal horticultural crops like guava, sapota etc.

More than 15,000 high-grade saplings and over 8,000 saplings of lucrative seasonal fruits had already been supplied to the farmers free of cost under the project. “We are joining forces with agronomists, ecologists, medical practitioners and other relevant experts to guide the decision-making at every step of the process”, he said.

For long, the non-availability of a viable alternative to the tobacco crop has put paid to the efforts of the Government, NGOs, and anti-tobacco campaigners to reduce tobacco cultivation in Mysuru, which is known for producing fine quality Virginia tobacco that enjoys an international market.

HCG’s independent think tank Antardhwani, which is implementing the project, had taken the initiative to identify crops that can be grown instead of tobacco in the regions of different climatic and soil conditions while at the same time assure market guarantee of the produce and sensitize farmers about the ill-effects of growing tobacco on health and environment.

According to statistics shared by Antardhwani, the cost of one kg of sandalwood is anywhere between ₹ 28,000 to ₹ 30,000. Besides, the 8 kg of firewood needed to cure 1 kg of tobacco leaves will also be saved, thereby reducing deforestation.

Explaining why a cancer hospital was fighting tobacco and putting its own business at stake, Dr. Ajaikumar said they got into oncology to save lives and cure people of the disease and not for business. “Now, it’s time to eliminate the root cause of cancer, which is tobacco. That is when we doctors will actually realise our dream of saving as many lives as possible”, he said.

Citing the 2022 Tobacco Atlas released last week, Dr. Ajaikumar said there were 1.1 billion cigarette smokers in the world, besides an additional 200 million who use other tobacco products.

In India, an estimated 13.5 lakh people had lost their lives due to tobacco consumption last year, a majority of whom were afflicted with cancer. While the total number of smokers in India has been put at 99.5 million, the number of smokeless tobacco users is 199.3 million.

He said India is the second-largest consumer of tobacco in the world, accounting for almost half of all oral cancers and the highest burden of tuberculosis globally. Yet, tobacco remains the single most widely available addictive substance and can be easily purchased anywhere in India. India is also the third-largest producer of tobacco in the world with Karnataka along with Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh accounting for almost 80% of the production, said a statement issued by Antardhwani.

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Printable version | Jun 19, 2022 2:01:41 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/cancer-hospitals-initiative-to-help-tobacco-farmers-grow-alternative-crops/article65472766.ece