In the face of the acute hunger crisis in Africa, the devastating impact of the climate phenomenon El Niño has been repeatedly in the news. But reports tend to neglect the various structural causes for hunger and poverty like industrialised agriculture and cash crop monoculture for the export among others.

A look into tobacco growing countries reveals, that the choice of crop also has its impact. In Malawi, more than 8 million people will face hunger this year, according to the FAO. Still, tobacco is grown on 1,666 km² of arable land. In Zimbabwe, the UN World Food Programme estimates about 4 million people to face starving. There tobacco is grown on 904 km² of arable land. But you cannot eat tobacco.

In the SDG-Factsheet No. 1: Tobacco | Poverty | Hunger we trace these interrelations.

Tobacco production and hunger

More than 17 million people around the world work in tobacco farming, primarily in low- and middle-income countries. Many smallholder farmers have difficulties in making a living from tobacco, since the earnings are often so low that there is no money left to pay any workers. This in turn fosters the use of child labour.

Furthermore, tobacco farming is also linked to food insecurity in a number of countries. In Malawi, for instance, land is scarce. Therefore, every square kilometer used for tobacco farming is a danger to food security.

SDG Factsheet No. 1 Graphic

In six of the top ten tobacco producing countries a significant share of the population is undernourished. More than ten million people could be fed, if food crops were grown instead of tobacco in these countries.

What can be done?

In order to combat poverty and hunger amongst tobacco growers, it is necessary to change the structures in tobacco trade to reduce the power asymmetry between smallholder farmers and multinational corporations.

In the long term, it is however extremely important to support the creation of alternative livelihoods, in order to achieve sustainable agriculture and food security. The provision of alternative livelihoods is establishe din Article 17 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

In the SDG-Factsheet No. 1: Tobacco | Poverty | Hunger we show practical suggestions for a change in the tobacco sector.

We also explain, what the Sustainable Develoment Goals are, why tobacco consumption and poverty are interdependent and where to get more information.


Graen/Eichborn/Tümptner (2016): Graphic Tobacco growing and undernourishment [jpg]

L. Graen (2016): SDG-Factsheet No. 1: Tobacco | Poverty | Hunger [pdf]

Eichborn/Abshagen (2015): Tobacco: Antisocial, Unfair, Harmful to the Environment [pdf]

L. Graen (2014): Doppelte Last: Tabak im Globalen Süden [pdf, German only]

More than ten million people could be fed, if food crops were grown instead of tobacco in these countries.