The World Health Organisation on Wednesday launched a programme that will see hundreds of farmers in Migori County, western Kenya, shift from health-hazardous tobacco-farming, in efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths and improve eco-friendly farming in the country.
The programme, dubbed ‘Tobacco-Free Farms Project’, will be executed in partnership with World Food Programme (WFP), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and the Kenya government.
It will support hundreds of farmers from the region, which produces majority of the tobacco processed in Kenya, to shift to more sustainable crops, through provision of seeds, fertilisers and ready market upon harvest through WFP’s local procurement initiatives.
Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Health, Mutahi Kagwe, said the project will help reduce health risks to the farmers and consequently the cost of health, which will accelerate achievement of the universal health coverage, one of the government’s Big Four Agenda.
“The project is a major step towards attaining a healthy nation and the Ministry of Health fully supports such ventures,” Kagwe said.
“I appreciate all the partners in the Tobacco-Free Farms project for choosing Kenya and more specifically Migori County to pilot this important global initiative aimed at curtailing the adverse health, environmental and economic effects of tobacco growing and utilisation,” said Zachary Obado, Migori Governor.
A recent study by scholars from the University of Nairobi and the American Cancer Centre revealed that farmers in Migori, Busia, and Meru counties could earn on average Ksh80,000 ($697.47) more per acre from alternative crops like vegetables, grains and cereals, but stuck to tobacco farming because “the structured supply chain of tobacco incentivises production.”
Simon Cammelbeeck, managing director of WFP’s Farm to Market Alliance programme, assured farmers that WFP will provide ready markets for the alternative crops produced in Migori.
“WFP, and Farm to Market Alliance, work to raise smallholder farmers’ incomes and improve livelihoods by building sustainable food systems that advance food security,” Cammelbeeck said.
Peter Munya, the Cabinet secretary for Agriculture, said this will go a long way in boosting the country’s food security, in addition to keeping farmers healthy.
The Kenya Tobacco Control Act of 2007 and WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which Kenya ratified in 2004, require the government to provide alternatives to tobacco production as a way of preventing possible socio-economic effects on people whose livelihoods depend on tobacco production.
“So far, we haven’t seen the government provide support for tobacco farmers who wish to move to alternative crops. This is a great milestone,” Joel Gitari, the chairperson of Kenya Tobacco Control and Health Promotion Alliance (KeTCHPA), an umbrella body of civil society organisations fighting tobacco use, told The EastAfrican.
“Tobacco growing farmers must be given the necessary support to switch to alternative crops that have the potential to improve their health and livelihoods as well as reduce the supply of tobacco,” said Dr Juliet Nabyonga, acting WHO Country Representative.
In October 2020, Kenya increased excise duty charged on tobacco products by 4.9 percent, which saw tax on manufactured tobacco rise from Ksh8,837 ($77.04) per kilogram to Ksh9,273.55 ($80.85).
On average, excise duty, which is charged on commodities like tobacco and alcohol, contributes to about 12 percent of Kenya’s annual tax revenue.
“Every effort made to reduce tobacco use is good for the environment, the economy, the future, and the country in general. This initiative should not stop at Migori. The government should extend it to Busia, Meru, Tharaka Nithi, and other regions that also farm tobacco,” Mr Gitari told The EastAfrican.