ENCOURAGING tobacco growing in Zambia is heading for the creation of a poison basket with serious health consequences, says Tobacco-Free Association of Zambia (TOFAZA) executive director Brenda Chitindi.
Ms Chitindi said apart from the poison basket threat, there were serious health and environmental concerns resulting from tobacco farming and especially of handling of tobacco leaf.
She said  tobacco production contributed significantly to environmental degradation through deforestation (wood cutting for curing tobacco leaves) as it was currently happening in Kalomo, Choma, Kabwe, Chipata and many other areas.
Ms Chitindi was reacting to calls by the Zambian Farmers Support Network Limited (ZFSNL) country coordinator Given Mung’omba who appealed to farmers to invest more in tobacco production because its market was readily available.
She said contrary to ZFSNL  appeal, in areas where tobacco was grown there was a lot of land clearing, erection of curing barns for tobacco, contamination of water supplies by pesticides, and soil degradation from intensive use of fertilizers. “By encouraging tobacco growing, Zambia is heading for a poison basket instead of food basket,” said Ms Chitindi.
She however noted that despite the health, social and environmental risks associated with tobacco, Zambia was still producing and dealing in the crop, and government is calling on Zambians to grow more tobacco, while developed countries advanced in health systems are discouraging their citizens not to grow tobacco and they are eradicating tobacco products on the market.
In a statement Ms Chitindi said tobacco caused cancers, heart diseases, diabetes and many more non-communicable diseases (NCDs) which were killing people silently.  .
She explained that Zambia was among African countries that had been selected to embark on alternative livelihoods to tobacco growing and current attending a meeting on “Alternative Livelihoods strategy to tobacco farming in Africa” in Entebbe Uganda.
A strategy that would see tobacco growing eradication to enable tobacco farmers live a healthier life while pursuing economically viable and sustainable alternatives.
“Africa is seriously looking into finding tobacco farmers alternative livelihoods, which will make tobacco farmers, shift to a healthier crops which do not harm its citizens,
“Women and children inhale nicotine on tobacco harvesting through handling of tobacco leaf without protecting clothing,” he said

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