Indonesian farmers’ incomes going up in smoke to buy cigarettes
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Indonesian farmers’ incomes going up in smoke to buy cigarettes

THE fact that most Indonesian farmers smoke is perhaps unsurprising. What is surprising, however, is the high proportion of household expenditure farmers allocate for cigarette consumption.

A survey was conducted from August to October 2017 in the Garut District of West Java Province, Indonesia, as part of research into risk-coping mechanisms implemented by Indonesian farmers to minimise the impacts of climate change. Using stratified random sampling, 180 farmers were chosen as respondents; of these approximately 78 percent were found to consume cigarettes. It revealed some troubling findings about the consumption pattern of rural households.

The study found that cigarettes take up a staggering 13.7 percent of total household budgets.

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It should be noted that in this sample, the vast majority of farmers were male, the head of the household, and came from low-income smallholder families. This means that cigarette consumption reflects an unequal distribution of income among household members because they are overwhelmingly consumed and enjoyed by the husband.

Interestingly, the survey found no relationship between the smoking habits and length of formal education of farmers. Smoking behaviour was distributed evenly among less educated and better educated respondents.

The very high proportion of income spent on smoking makes it difficult for farmers to accumulate the assets that could be used for investment to improve household income. This is not limited to capital investment but also investment in human resources, such as the education of children.

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Cigarettes take up a staggering 13.7 percent of total household budgets. Source: Shutterstock

Reducing cigarette consumption is thus crucial for two reasons. Firstly, it’s important to reduce farmers’ smoking behaviour in order to avoid the high economic costs generated by smoking and to reduce poverty.

Most farmers have low incomes. When a financial shock occurs associated with a health problem, they cannot overcome it properly due to the high cost of recovering from diseases associated with smoking.

Moreover, the income flow of the household will be hampered if it is the husband, as head of household, who suffers from the health problem. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that the participation rate of farmers in health insurance is also very low. Only 25 percent of farmers purchase national health insurance. Low incomes and lack of health insurance make households poorer when they experience health problems because they cannot maintain their level of farm production.

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Second, reducing farmers’ smoking habits might increase national food security. Farmers who produce rice and other agricultural products are important stakeholders and development actors in Indonesia. The country’s food security will be threatened if farmers cannot produce rice and food in sufficient quantities.

Furthermore, the total number of farmers is decreasing, as few of the current young generation want to remain involved in the agricultural sector. According to the Census of Agriculture, the number of farmers fell by more than 16 percent in the decade to 2013. The average age of the farmers in this field survey was 51. Improving farmers’ living standards, including health quality, would contribute to the sustainability of agricultural production in a situation where there is a decreasing number of farmers.

So how can we minimise the smoking behaviour of Indonesia’s farmers?

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A cigarette seller serves a consumer on a street in Jakarta, Indonesia, March 15, 2017. Source: Reuters/ Beawiharta

The government has already implemented some strategies to reduce the smoking behaviour of its citizens, including increasing the price of cigarettes through higher taxes. It has also initiated public education campaigns, such as by placing graphic pictures showing the effects of smoking on cigarette packets.

However, the high prices and confronting pictures have not been effective in reducing farmers’ smoking behaviour. The prevalence of smoking among Indonesian male adults rose from 27 percent in 1995 to 36.3 percent in 2013. These strategies have not succeeded in part because farmers can get around high prices by using tobacco that is available and commonly sold in villages.

An alternative approach to the issue is to provide education to children at the household level to prevent the habits of smoking developing in the first place. For many people, bad habits begin at home – a father who smokes often fails to prevent his children from becoming smokers themselves.

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The government could utilise the integrated health service centre (Posyando) to deliver programs to support household members, especially mothers, to educate their children not to smoke. These Posyandu were established by the Suharto Government, and are an important element in maintaining population health through a family planning program (Keluarga Berencana); they still exist in villages in every district. Another possible strategy is to use formal education institutions such as schools to strengthen the government campaign.

Even though Indonesian farmer households have low incomes, the proportion of their income allocated to smoking is alarmingly high. Reducing farmers’ smoking habits is important for improving their living standards, ensuring food security for the country, and contributing to national economic development.

By Dadang J Mutaqin, an Asia and the Pacific Policy Society member and a graduate of Crawford School of Public Policy’s Environmental Management and Development Program, ANU. Originally published on PolicyForum.net.