The All Island Cigarette Tobacco Barn Owners’ Association (AICTBOA) states that their livelihood is threatened by reports citing that tobacco cultivation will be stopped by 2020.
The AICTBOA was speaking to media after a Bodhi Pooja held at the Sri Sambodhi Viharaya in Kalegama, Dehiattakandiya recently.
President of the AICTBOA, Mr. Jayantha Egodawela stated, “This is the first time we have come forward to organize a bodhi poojawa of this magnitude, as an Association of farmers. As farmers we grow many crops and have faced numerous challenges over the past few years from the external environment including extreme weather conditions. Only tobacco has taken us through these harsh times where we were able to keep our families fed and clothed. Today we pray for blessings not only for ourselves, but for all Sri Lankan farmers and hope they get the strength, motivation and support to persevere.”
Tobacco is a cash crop farmers choose to grow during the ‘Yala’ season when water is scarce for paddy cultivation. Over 20,000 farmers across the island supply the tobacco industry’s leaf requirement using less than 0.01 per cent of the total arable land. When compared to other cash crops, the direct and indirect employment generated through tobacco cultivation is the highest. As a result, tobacco farmers are able to improve their quality of life for themselves, their families and the communities around them.
“This Bodhi Poojawa is symbolic for us this year as there is a real concern that the tobacco cultivation ban will destroy our livelihoods and leave us without a means of survival. Our farmer communities have good employment opportunities and benefits through our out-grower model and we are able to share these benefits and uplift our communities as a result. We call on relevant authorities to have a dialogue with our farmers, understand our predicament and then take decisions that are fair to all.” continued Mr. Egodawela.
The ban will threaten the livelihoods of over 300,000 people who depend on tobacco cultivation to make a living. Tobacco farmers have not been given any assurances on alternative crops in order for them to transition from tobacco to the cultivation of other crops. In such a situation many tobacco farmers are left wondering what their future holds and whether they will be left destitute due to such a move, he added.
Farmers from many areas across the island including Galewela, Polonnaruwa, Mahiyanganaya, Theldeniya, Buttala, Ududumbara and Haliela gathered at the temple for this religious event, which was conducted under the auspices of the Chief Incumbent of the Sri Sambodhi Viharaya - Ven. Makuruppe Pangnasekara Thero. The following are several instances from the religious event.
(Pics : Kelum Shivantha / Shanika Jayasekara)