More than 40 million tobacco farmers and farm workers around the world depend on tobacco for their livelihood. However, there has been a downward trend in demand for tobacco products in various parts of the world since 2009, a consequence of strict regulations imposed on tobacco products having an impact on the quality of life of tobacco farmers.
Further pressure on the tobacco industry comes from the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which calls for the replacement of tobacco with other crops. In anticipating the effects of this policies, there is an urgency to explore new markets in order to maintain the livelihoods of tobacco farmers and protect their welfare, especially in Indonesia.
The International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA), together with local affiliates the Indonesian Tobacco Community Alliance (AMTI) & the Indonesian Tobacco Farmers Association (APTI) are at the forefront of efforts to defend the rights of tobacco farmers, especially in countries where tobacco farming plays an important social and economic role such as Indonesia.
Based on this, the ITGA together with AMTI & APTI held the World Tobacco Growers Day 2019 – Indonesian Commemoration at the Sabilulungan Cultural Building in Bandung Regency on Tuesday (Oct 29). The event was attended by some 1,000 representatives of tobacco farming communities in West Java, Central Java, East Java and Lampung.
From early morning, the invited participants packed the building area in the capital of Bandung Regency. In this area West Javan tobacco products were also exhibited from 17 APTI Branch Boards in West Java. The event was opened at 09.00 WIB with the song Indonesia Raya followed by the priangan regional art performances.
In his opening speech, Chairman of the Indonesian Tobacco Farmers Association (APTI) Soeseno explained that World Tobacco Growers Day (WTGD) is an initiative launched by ITGA to promote globally the important role that tobacco farmers play in the 22 tobacco producing countries across the globe.
Since 2012, Tobacco Growers’ Associations around the world have been celebrating WTGD, and this year in Indonesia, the national tobacco growers’ day commemoration was centralized in one of the main tobacco production centers in West Java, namely Soreang in Bandung Regency.
“We are proud of our growers. They work hard to maintain their livelihoods and welfare while respecting their environment and take care of their communities. Tobacco farmers promote good practices and social and environmental initiatives to consistently improve the quality of life of their families and their communities. They have also been a very important part of their economies for centuries. Tobacco is indeed the legacy of our society,” said Soeseno.
Soeseno explained that West Java possesses great potential for tobacco farming. For years West Javan tobacco is traded locally in Sumedang and shipped to Payakumbuh in Sumatera before reaching its final destination in Malaysia. This proves that West Javan tobacco qualifies for export market.
According to Soeseno, the World Tobacco Growers Day commemoration this year was aimed to promote the hard works and achievements of tobacco farmers in West Java. “We want to show that tobacco farmers have been working independently. Where government support is limited, tobacco farmers can adapt by making innovations and creations. They don’t just earn their living from tobacco, because tobacco has become their lives. Tobacco can be found almost in every province in Indonesia, from Aceh to South Sulawesi.”
Speaking of the potentials, West Java tobacco farming is the 3rd largest nationally after East Java and Central Java by total farming area. “Although not as large as in other parts of Java Island, tobacco farming in West Java is important because it generates export income,” said Soeseno.
Through the commemoration of WTGD, the AMTI & APTI wanted to promote local tobacco. The best tobacco products from West Java will be put on display and reported to the ITGA, so that tobacco industry stakeholders around the world can learn about West Javan tobacco. Soeseno is positive that other tobacco producing countries will be delighted to see tobacco products from West Java, Indonesia.
Soeseno also emphasized on the importance of exposing the independency of tobacco farmers in Indonesia. He was particularly disappointed by the government that never provides sufficient support and attention and instead endorsed anti-tobacco campaigns. However Soeseno acknowledged the good will of local governments in West Java Province and Bandung Regency, who have been working closely with West Javan tobacco farmers and provided full support for the success of WTGD event in Soreang.
The lack of government support for tobacco farming is very regrettable because this sector makes significant contributions to the state income. In 2020, excise tax income from tobacco products is projected to reach Rp170 trillion. “The blood, sweat and tears of tobacco and clove farmers flow in every dime of excise income collected by the government. These farmers make serious contributions to the country,” Soeseno stressed. Farmers continued on working and making contributions despite the unremitting pressures placed on them, the most recent being the double increases in cigarette excise tariff (by 21.3 percent) and cigarette retail price (by 35 percent) in 2020.
Soeseno warned the government that this excessive increase in excise tariff will cause decline in demand for tobacco by the cigarette industry. Tobacco farmers will suffer the hardest blow as cigarette companies cut down their tobacco purchases. Even before the policy comes into effect, tobacco farmers already complained that tobacco graders have threatened to reduce their purchases, said Soeseno.
With regard to this situation, Soeseno asked farmers to not fret. Pressures in the form of unfavorable policies are nothing new to tobacco farmers because they have been experiencing this since 2010. “We are used to work under pressure. We will survive. We believe tobacco farmers will remain solid in their devotion to the nation and the state, to generate Rp170 trillion in excise income for the state,” said Soeseno.
He was also confident that the WTGD event will bring a breath of fresh air to tobacco farmers. “The world will know that Bandung has superior quality tobacco and that farmers here have been exporting their harvests to other countries. We hope the WTGD event will promote the continued existence of tobacco farming,” Soeseno added.
The series of events commemorating WTGD started at 09.00 WIB, but attendees have been gathering the area before the national anthem Indonesia Raya was played to mark the opening. In addition to representatives of tobacco farmers from West Java and other areas in Indonesia, the 2019 WTGD commemoration in Soreang was also attended by General Chairman of AMTI Budidoyo and representatives of West Java Province Government, Bandung Regency Government, and Bandung Regency Regional House of Representatives (DPRD).
Besides displaying tobacco products from members of West Java APTI in 17 districts, the WTGD event also presented discussion featuring traditional West Java puppet master Eso Wiasa and the famous Si Cepot wooden puppet character, discussion event with Paperka on the topic of creative tobacco product, and Sundanese traditional art performances.