ASH Scotland joins WHO’s World No Tobacco Day campaign call for farmers to be supported to grow food instead of tobacco

31 May 2023

ASH Scotland is adding its voice to the World Health Organization’s global campaign on World No Tobacco Day today (Wednesday 31 May) which is encouraging and supporting at least 10,000 farmers to grow sustainable, nutritious food crops instead of tobacco.

The charity is marking the day, which has the theme ‘We need food, not tobacco’, by raising concerns about the devastating health impacts on tobacco farmers and their families who plant, cultivate and harvest tobacco, and also by recognising the Scottish Government’s international development work supporting agricultural businesses in Malawi to grow food crops as an alternative to tobacco.

Sheila Duffy, Chief Executive of health charity ASH Scotland, said: “As we look forward to future generations in Scotland being tobacco-free, we are supporting the World Health Organization’s World No Tobacco Day 2023 campaign highlighting the urgent need to reduce tobacco growing and help farmers to move towards producing alternative food crops.

“The dangers associated with smoking tobacco are well known in Scotland, as it is the cause of 100,000 hospitalisations and 9,000 deaths each year, but the health harms related to growing tobacco in Asia, South America and Africa are not as familiar. Farmers and more than one million child labourers who are estimated to be exploited by the tobacco industry through their work on tobacco farms are exposed to chemical pesticides, tobacco smoke and as much nicotine absorbed through their skin as found in 50 cigarettes – leading to illnesses like chronic lung conditions and nicotine poisoning.

“The tobacco industry pays farmers a pittance and land that could be used to grow food is drained of nutrients by a crop that kills. Farmers need support to turn their backs on growing tobacco to produce sustainable, nutritious food crops instead. We congratulate the WHO for all its work on alternatives, and the Scottish Government for directing international development funding towards supporting agricultural businesses in Malawi to help achieve this beneficial change.”

African Lakes Company, a Scottish company making investments in African businesses that are ready to scale up, completed an initial equity investment between 2021-2023 of £1.1m in St Andrew Macadamia Limited to enable the former tobacco farm in Namadzi, Malawi to complete its conversion to growing the more socially responsible and economically viable crop of macadamia nuts. This investment was made possible by the support of private investors and match funding from the Scottish Government.

The company is also supporting the development of the Agricultural Community Foundation and has provided £200,000 in grant funding for a women’s enterprise project aiming to develop sustainable livelihoods for women who formerly worked on the tobacco farm.

Bobby Anderson, CEO of African Lakes Company, said: “We are proud of this investment which has enabled St Andrew Macadamia to make the transition from tobacco to macadamia. It is important to be led by local farmers and draw on their knowledge and experience to grow food crops for local consumption and export crops which have a much better social and environmental impact.

“The challenge of helping local communities and workers transition from tobacco is also important, and we are addressing that through the Agricultural Community Foundation.  Reducing the demand for tobacco products at our end in Scotland remains a challenge and so I welcome the work of ASH Scotland and the support of the Scottish Government for this effort to address both supply and demand.”

Alasdair Allan MSP who is a Co-Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group (CPG) on Malawi and has lodged motion S6M-09216 at Holyrood marking the World No Tobacco Day campaign, said: “This year’s World No Tobacco Day is an opportunity to note the impact of tobacco on the developing world. Harsh economic conditions leave many farmers in places like Malawi with few choices but to grow tobacco. Reliance on tobacco cultivation makes the country more dependent on food imports, depletes the soil through heavy use of pesticides, and puts tobacco farmers at risk of absorbing huge quantities of nicotine.

“Phasing out tobacco means helping countries like Malawi transition to growing more food in their place. The African Lakes Company’s recent conversion of a tobacco farm in Malawi to growing macadamia nuts – with funding from the Scottish Government – is a prime example and I hope we can see more projects like this in the years to come.”

Alexander Stewart MSP, who is the parliamentary smoking cessation champion and Co-Convener of both the ‘Lung Health’ and ‘Malawi’ Cross Party Groups in the Scottish Parliament, said: “I enthusiastically support all Scottish international development work that encourages agricultural businesses in Malawi to grow food crops as an alternative to tobacco. I am aware that the world’s tobacco growing area is so vast that it could collectively be cultivated to feed over 19 million people and, as such, I actively encourage all efforts to address tobacco farmers with a view to begin switching to other crops.

“We already know that Scotland has a ‘tobacco-free by 2034’ commitment, has historically strong links with Malawi, spends half of its development funds for Malawi and at the same time very much needs a robust programme in place for dealing with tobacco, so with this in mind; I shall continue to hold the Scottish Government to account on their tobacco strategy, and do all I can through our CPGs and excellent organisations such as ASH Scotland in order to encourage progress on this ongoing international work.”

Liam McArthur MSP, Co-Convener of the Cross Party Group on Malawi, said: “Many people in countries like Malawi feel forced by their economic circumstances to take on work for the tobacco industry, with all the risks that can entail.

“That’s why projects like this are so encouraging, supporting those who want to move away from tobacco farming and into more sustainable practices. I commend the African Lakes Company and the Scottish Government for helping make this project a reality. I’m sure that members of the Cross Party Group on Malawi will be keen to get updates on this project as well as steps being taken to support similar initiatives elsewhere in Malawi and beyond.”

For information about the WHO’s World No Tobacco Day campaign, visit