Beyond Big Tobacco: Evolving Sustainable Livelihoods and Communities after Tobacco

Throughout its commercial history, the production and marketing of tobacco has shaped the economic, social and even political systems in tobacco growing  communities around the globe. The production and marketing of tobacco has shaped physical landscapes through production practices and other environmental processes, and social landscapes through labor practices. Above all, tobacco industry’s production and marketing structures have meshed with historical political economies of particular regions to entrench dependence of communities and livelihoods on tobacco. As tobacco control and public health sentiments rise around the world, and as tobacco-growing communities seek to move away from tobacco dependence, cigarette manufacturers and leaf buying companies leverage economic globalization and trade liberalization to increase their economic and political influence , further deepening the dependence and vulnerability of tobacco-growing communities. While social and economic processes resulting from tobacco growing have unfolded differently in different contexts, tobacco communities in far-flung places across the globe have been inextricably linked together through trade competition and paradoxically, through sharing poverty and marginalization that are now characteristic of tobacco growing regions.


 In this session we seek to enhance dialogue between scholars and practitioners of rural economic development programs on the lived experiences of tobacco growers and their communities in the US and abroad as they tried to build more diversified and sustainable livelihoods. We welcome papers and multi-media presentations that explore contemporary experiences with the effects of the practices of the tobacco industry on changing agricultural labor and production, distribution, and marketing. We are also interested in analyses of the influence, strategies and practices of the tobacco industry, and how tobacco farmers and farm workers contest tobacco industry malfeasance. Our approach is comparative and driven by narratives of individuals who devote their labor to tobacco leaf farming and those who advocate for ethical and transparent global tobacco supply chains. We are interested in presentations that are community-driven, evidence-based and policy influential from scholars and practitioners with stories to share about dignity in tobacco fields and the mix of strategies farmers deploy to exit tobacco farming.


Contact Tony Milanzi ( and/or Ann Kingsolver (


                                              Stand of Lush Tobacco. Public Domain. 


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