The question of intensive pesticide use on tobacco is one of the myths that seem to last forever, with no scientific evidence. Contrary to what is usually spread by the media, research based on official data released by the SINDAG (National Union of the Agricultural Protection Industry) concludes that Brazilian tobacco is the commercial crop that uses the least amounts of pesticides.
Furthermore, the sector is concerned about the disposal of the pesticide containers utilized on tobacco and crops other than tobacco. The Empty Pesticide Container Collection Program was created in 2000, even before legislation was passed making it mandatory to return the containers, in 2002. Currently, there are 2.3 thousand collection sites throughout the rural zones, benefiting 563 tobacco growing municipalities.
All the farmers are advised to wear Full Barrier Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at such operations as storing the leaves in the packhouse, at handling and when applying pesticides on any crop. However, in spite of the awareness campaigns promoted by the SindiTabaco and associated companies and the ease of acquiring the equipment at cost, in addition to the recommendations of the field staffs, some farmers avoid wearing the PPE.
Primers, media campaigns, awareness creating seminars are part of the investments by the industry towards strengthening the technical recommendations to the farmers.
Tobacco is normally harvested from October through February, depending on the region. During this period, pesticides are no longer applied. The lack of information about the Green Tobacco Sickness, even in hospitals and healthcare centers, is likely to create confusion regarding the symptoms of this type of poisoning. At tobacco leaf harvesting, if no appropriate clothing is worn, the nicotine of the plant, in contact with the skin, can cause discomfort to the farmers, especially if the leaves are wet with rain or morning dew.
Exposure to nicotine takes place through dermal contact with the resin (gummosis) of the tobacco leaves during harvesting, topping, collection from the field and transportation to the curing barns. That is why, if gloves and appropriate clothing are not worn, the chances to get poisoned increase greatly. Absorbed by the skin, the nicotine is carried to the blood vessels. Its absorption is proportional to the size of the exposed body parts, and of the presence of skin lesions.
Nicotine poisoning caused by dermal exposure to green tobacco leaves can be prevented by wearing appropriate tobacco harvest clothing. Simple initiatives, like wearing specific gloves and a cloak, or picking the leaves when they are not wet and when the temperature is mild make it possible for the farmers to handle tobacco in a safe manner.
Wearing clothing developed by the industry prevents the farmers from developing the symptoms of the Green Tobacco Sickness. The harvest clothing that the farmers receive from the companies at cost began to be developed in 2009, when the SindiTabaco hired a specialized consultancy for doing research, develop and describe the technical specifications of the protective clothing.
Between 2010 and 2011, a second consultancy was hired, with the specific aim to evaluate the effectiveness of the clothes, their operational safety and the degree of protection against the Green Tobacco Sickness.
Since the 1970s, the tobacco industry has been encouraging the preservation of native forests, whilst promoting reforestation for ecological balance, consumption of sustainable wood and sales of surpluses as a source of income. The profile of the holdings attests to the success of these initiatives, with a forest cover of 27%, on average, consisting of native trees or reforested lots.
In 2011, this work was greatly intensified through an unprecedented agreement between the tobacco supply chain, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama), and the Ministry of the Environment. Production areas began to be monitored by satellite in order to ensure the preservation of the Atlantic Forest.
Product quality and integrity result directly from the proximity between companies and producers, provided by the Integrated Tobacco Growing System (ITGS). Besides paving the way for technology and innovation, the partnership also leads to advances in matters like child labor, environmental preservation and farmers’ health and safety.
Brazil is now the second-largest producer and leading global exporter of leaf tobacco. Although antismoking campaigns are getting stronger, consumption will continue for decades. For this reason the SindiTabaco fights for the continuity of tobacco farming in Brazil, inasmuch as there is demand for it, and taking into consideration the fact that it is a source of income and jobs in the entire southern region of Brazil.
This legal product employs 2.5 million people, it is the driving force behind the development of 619 municipalities, bringing in revenue of US$ 2,5 billion a year from exports, while the integrated growers’ income amounts to R$ 5 billion.
SindiTabaco and associated companies are vehemently against child and adolescent labor, under 18 years old, at any stage of the tobacco growing process. In 2015, we completed 17 years in our fight against child labor in family farming, and the results have been encouraging. At its 2010 census of agriculture, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) concluded that the biggest reductions in child labor incidences, compared to the second last census of agriculture in 2000, occurred on small holdings.
We still have quite a way to go until the problem has been entirely eradicated. However, it is important to mention that the Brazilian department of the International Labor Organization (ILO) considers the tobacco sector an example to be followed when it comes to eradicating child and adolescent labor, which is a permanent rural and urban concern.
SindiTabaco is not involved in tobacco price negotiations in compliance with Law n° 12.529/2011 and in line with what is clearly recommended by the Administrative Council for Economic Defense (Cade), an autonomous federal department , linked with the Ministry of Justice, with its place of business and jurisdiction in the Federal District, whose mission consists in keeping a close watch on free market competition, and at the Executive Power level is the organ responsible for fostering and disseminating the culture of free competition and, later, rule on cartels and other conducts harmful to free competition.
Most tobacco growing holdings are quite diversified. According to Afubra, on average, only 16% of the total area is devoted to tobacco. The remaining hectares are used for other agricultural and livestock activities (corn, beans, soybean, livestock operations, pastureland, ponds and reforestation). For almost three decades now, the tobacco sector has been encouraging the farmers to adhere to diversification initiatives, where the program known as ‘Grow Corn and Beans after Tobacco Harvest’ really stands out.
Furthermore, the sector has signed cooperation agreements with the State Government of Rio Grande do Sul, focused on irrigation and the cultivation of cereal crops.
Rural succession is a question that causes concern, not only in the tobacco scope, but in the sphere of agriculture in general, especially in the area of food crops. The subject has triggered the interest of both companies and farmer representations. There is need to encourage the young to stay in the countryside, facilitating access to the internet and to technologies, and through comprehensive education geared towards rural entrepreneurship, always within the context of the reality the young farmers are inserted into.
To encourage succession, the SindiTabaco is a supporter of Agricultural Family Schools (EFAs), through a series of scholarships granted to students. The schools employ the so-called Alternance Pedagogy methodology for agriculture-oriented high school students. The aim of the partnership consists in providing the young people in the countryside with capacity building opportunities, thus preparing them for succeeding their parents, whilst turning them into rural entrepreneurs. In our view, the EFAs are the right course for rural succession, seeing that the school allows for specific and qualified education. Some companies are also running digital inclusion projects, whereby the young have access to new technologies and knowledge.
Mechanized harvesting is now being tested by some companies with the aim to adapt it to the real estate structure of the small tobacco growing holdings in the country. Furthermore, the topography of the regions and the cost of the equipment should also be considered. We believe that, in the near future, we will make strides in this field.