THE poor performance of the sugar industry has resulted in a significant increase in tobacco farms in the Western Division.
Non communicable diseases national director, Dr Isimeli Tukana said the trend was a concern to the Ministry of Health.
He made the statement at a workshop in Nadi discussing the link between tobacco trade and NCDs.
He said observations by health officials noted that the number of local tobacco farms had increased over the past six years.
Dr Tukana said the comparisons made by health officials and farmers found that the planting and harvesting of tobacco in the country also rose because of the much desirable working environment.
"One of the best looked after farmers are the tobacco farmers. Plants are brought to them and the harvested leaves are transported for them to factories right from their farm.
"Most importantly they are paid very good money for their harvest," said Dr Tukana.
"The quotations that some of the tobacco farmers are receiving is quite good. I have seen some farmers along the Nadi, Lautoka area, in particular the Sabeto, a where a lot of farmers have switched to tobacco farming."
He said one of the major challenges for the ministry would be to look for alternative means of income if a ban on tobacco farming was imposed.
"We have to give other options to them in order for them to be able to leave tobacco farming. We have to be careful of their health and economic wellbeing," said Dr Tukana.
"We have to maintain a balance between health and people's livelihoods."
He said some of the alternatives that could be provided to farmers included root crop and vegetable farming and sugarcane farming which had seen an improvement in recent months because of the renewed focus to revitalise the sugar industry.