'Total tobacco' policy crushes farmers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 May, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 May, 2000, 12:00am

FARMERS in the Guanyang district of Chongqing knew that local cadres wanted them to grow tobacco this year.

The slogan 'Fully implement the total tobacco-growing policy' was pasted up on walls and signboards all over the district. But few expected that henchmen would be sent to rip up and destroy any and all other crops that they might try to grow.

'I begged them,' cried one farmer, in tears, as he sifted through the recently overturned dirt of his modest plot on a recent edition of CCTV's Focus Talk. 'I told them I have to eat, that's why I grow sweet potatoes, but they dug them all out. Nothing is left, not even one potato,' the farmer said.

Village cadres say they must use whatever means are necessary to implement the 'total tobacco' policy, for if they fail they will lose their jobs. Officials at the district level justify their actions by saying that tobacco earns about 21,000 yuan (HK$19,780) per hectare, while corn and other crops yield only a few hundred yuan.

'We just want to make more profit for the peasants, so we took some administrative measures,' the district chief, Wang Quangui, said.

In March, all the registered farmers in the district put their thumb prints to a document declaring that they would agree to grow tobacco this season. Cadres say this was voluntary, but most of the farmers say that they were forced to agree to the new policy, which they would rather not implement if they could avoid it.

One farmer said he used to grow tobacco but that the market was very unstable and the buyers were corrupt, routinely forcing peasants to sell their crop well below market prices. Farmers did not feel safe growing tobacco, he explained, so they continue to grow food crops for their own subsistence.

This year, the district Government promulgated a 'special agricultural tax' amounting to 2,520 yuan per hectare on all crops other than tobacco.

Inspection teams were sent out to locate peasants who had planted other crops, and the inspectors instructed the farmers to pay this tax at the beginning of the growing season. Those who could not afford to pay right away were coerced into taking a special 'Learn the Policy' course.

One farmer said that when he tried to avoid the group who was sent to take him to this training course, he was chased down and beaten, and was only released after he had first signed a 'confession' stating that he had attacked a member of the inspection team.

According to agricultural law, though, farmers have the right to choose what crops they want to grow.

One party secretary of a village in the district sympathises with the peasants. He decries the 'total tobacco' policy and how it is being implemented, saying that it 'not only hurts the peasants, it also increases the contradictions between the people and the cadres'.