It is not going to be easy for India to meet its commitment to the World Health Organisation (WHO) to bring down tobacco production by 50 per cent in the next one decade. Tobacco output in India is estimated to be more than 700 million kg in 2009-10 due to higher price realisation last year and scanty rainfall.
“We have estimated the tobacco production at 700 million kg in 2009-10 as against 690 million kg in 2008-09,” said J Suresh Babu, chairman, Tobacco Board.
However, the board is concerned over the fact that the production may even surpass its current estimate as more and more farmers in major tobacco growing regions such as Andhra Pradesh are opting for tobacco in the wake of higher prices.
Due to spurt in global demand following low tobacco production in leading growing countries such as Europe last year, flue-cured virginia (FCV) tobacco farmers received a price of Rs 108 a kg in 2008-09 as against Rs 84 a kg in 2007-08. Interestingly, 1.5 million kg of tobacco was auctioned in Karnataka recently and the price was quoted at Rs 113 a kg.
Apart from higher prices, erratic rainfall is also going to contribute to rise in output. “Delayed rains affected the prospects of various rabi crops and most of the land is vacant at present. With the onset of tobacco plantation in Andhra Pradesh, many farmers will be tempted to take up the crop leading to further rise in the production”, he said. However, the Tobacco Board chairman also made it clear that the rise may not be more than 10 per cent.
Concerned over the possible increase in production, the board has started meeting farmers to convince them not to rush for tobacco crop. Tobacco plantation is currently in progress in Andhra Pradesh, which saw FCV tobacco production of 204 million kg in 2008-09. The Tobacco Board has fixed the tobacco output in the state at 170 million kg.
Similarly, Karnataka, where marketing for current fiscal has just started, is likely to witness FCV output of 125 million kg in 2009-10 as compared to 100 million kg last fiscal.
Out of the total tobacco production, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka contributed around 320 million kg last year. Tobacco board also estimates that the exports are likely to be flat at $750 million.
FCV tobacco farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka may have reason to smile, which may not be the case with bidi tobacco growers in Gujarat. “Tobacco sowing is in progress but the excessive heat is going to affect tobacco plants. We estimate 30 per cent fall in production of bidi tobacco this year”, said Bhikhubhai Patel, president, Gujarat Tobacco Merchants’ Association.