Tobacco farmers switch to fruit and veg

Sensemaking / Tobacco farmers switch to fruit and veg

Small-scale tobacco farmers in North Carolina are reaping the benefits of diversification, thanks to funding from The Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund.  

25 Nov 2011

Small-scale tobacco farmers in North Carolina are reaping the benefits of diversification, thanks to funding from The Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund.

A fund to help small-scale tobacco farmers in North Carolina diversify their crops and income is working wonders for rural economies. The Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund (TCRF) aims to reward innovation and high profit potential in farms with a historic dependence on tobacco. With awards of up to $10,000 per individual or $30,000 per community project, tobacco farmers are turning to fruit, veg and poultry.

Matthew Garrett is one of them. With a $10,000 grant from the TCRF, he is converting a 40 acre tobacco farm to organic vegetable production, for sale at a local farmers’ market. He is just one of many whose livelihood is being squeezed by competition from tobacco grown more cheaply abroad, while he struggles to bring ageing facilities up to date.

In the past three years alone, the Fund claims to have created or preserved more than 4,100 jobs. All these benefits come from a relatively modest investment: $3.6 million of Tobacco Trust Fund money distributed to 367 innovative farmers. The Fund originates from the Master Settlement Agreement, in which the four largest US tobacco companies paid $206 billion to 46 states to compensate for the impact of tobacco on public health.

The Rural Advancement Foundation International USA, a non-profit established to promote sustainability, equity and diversity in agriculture, sees North Carolina’s shift away from tobacco as an exemplar for diversification. It’s not all about markets: a greater variety of crops brings resilience in the face of unpredictable weather, reduces the risk of disease, and can improve soil quality.

Unfortunately, the TCRF funding could be slashed next year because of drastic cuts in the budget of the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. “We will do everything in our power to ensure farmers get access to this capital, through whatever sources we can secure,” says Program Director Joe Schroeder. – Christine Ottery

Photo: Guy Sagi/iStockphoto

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