Adapted From Daily Nation
Mwangi Muiruri 10 Jan 2011
Nairobi — The war between cigarette makers and anti-smoking activists threatens the future of tobacco farmers in Kuria District and other areas.
The fight is capitalising on household poverty index prevalent in the region where more than 70 per cent are said to be living below the poverty line.
The onslaught meant to cover the whole of Nyanza Province where the cash crop is grown hinges on the notion that the zone has lagged in development despite relying on tobacco since the 1970s.
Data from Kenya Agricultural Produce indicates that tobacco farmers earn an average of Sh3 to Sh10 per kilogramme in lean moments whereas in better times, the price hits Sh40 per kilogramme of delivered leaves.
Must abandon crop
The Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance led by executive director Fred Odhiambo visited farmers in Nyabohanse, Nyambare, Bukira, Muchebe and Isebania on a ‘fact finding mission’ field day and their verdict was that they must abandon this crop.
He opposed any insurance scheme for tobacco farmers arguing that “you cannot insure productive farmers against poverty.”
And right from the word go, it was apparent that the call would meet resistance as the area does not understand what else to turn to.
“Tobacco growing remains a sensitive issue amongst our people since it has been our cash crop in the past four decades. While it is apparent that our people have suffered negative effects, more sensitisation has to be done on alternatives,” said Mr Robi Magoge a village elder.
Area professionals complained that multinationals have been taking advantage of locals by contracting them to farm but offering poor prices.
“Tobacco farming has been thriving on ignorance and poverty levels of the locals who even in exploitative market have remained hooked to farming contracts and poor pay,” said Mr Chacha Mwita of the Kenya Anti-Tobacco Growing Association.
But in a recent meeting with Trade minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere, on a mission to petition the government to go easy in the war against tobacco trade, British American Tobacco (BAT) chairman Evanson Mwaniki said that resurgence of war for both tobacco farming and trade in its by-products was bad for business.
He said that some of the clauses in anti-tobacco laws were not meant to protect public health but tailored to restrict trade whereas anti-tobacco lobbyists were dwelling too much on propaganda and rumour mongering.
Not lost to us
“It should not be lost to us that we are dealing with a sensitive issue of trade and opportunities where the side effects of this propaganda war will be job cuts, salary downsising and lower tax for the exchequer,” he said.
BAT contracts 17,500 small-scale farmers to cultivate tobacco over an estimated 15,000 hectares.hough economic analysts argue that tobacco is grown on fertile agricultural land that could serve the country well if it were put under food production, many farmers continue to earn an income from this.
According to Mr Joseph Boke, chairman Isebania Sub-District Hospital, locals have in the past decade faced “grievous health damages” owing to tobacco farming but are yet to start embracing alternative forms of livelihood.
According to Mr Magoge, communities in Kuria will only agree to discard tobacco farming on condition that there is another alternative cash crop with ready market.
And even with this, he said, few are willing or ready to take up a pilot project to promote alternatives for fear of destabilising their only known source of livelihood.
“Kuria District is known for its fertile soils and vast lands. The area can grow virtually any crop since it experiences long and short rains,” he said.