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Farmers replacing tobacco with food crops in Kenya

Tobacco directly kills over 19,000 people every year in Kenya (© WRENmedia)
Tobacco directly kills over 19,000 people every year in Kenya
© WRENmedia

Due to the high number of deaths and costs associated with tobacco consumption, the Kenyan government has initiated a programme to alternate tobacco with other crops. "Since the alternation process began more than a year ago, we have managed to introduce several food cash crops to farmers and they are making more money than they would from tobacco," explains Dr William Maina, who heads the communicable diseases department in the Ministry of Health. Farmers have been provided with loans to help them grow alternative crops, including sugarcane, cotton, oranges, pineapples, bananas, cassava and maize.

The crop alternation process has been influenced by the Tobacco Control Bill, signed by Kenya's president, Mwai Kibaki, in 2007. While the Bill does not outlaw the cultivation of tobacco, the regulation does call for the promotion of economically viable alternative crops. "The US$300 million we generate in revenue from tobacco is very little considering that we are spending well over US$1 billion treating tobacco related diseases each year," Dr Maina adds. Government representatives have said that tobacco also threatens food security and has resulted in higher food import costs.

Alternative crops are now being grown on about 40 per cent of the land that was previously under tobacco cultivation. Says Mwenda Njagi, a farmer in Eastern Kenya, "Growing tobacco is labour intensive and we are continuously being exploited by tobacco companies. I am fine with my new maize, and in fact I am making more money. I also plant fruits on my farm which bring additional income."

There has been strong opposition from tobacco companies but the government has maintained its stand. Kenya is currently a member of several World Health Organization programmes that prohibit use of tobacco. According to government statistics, tobacco directly kills over 19,000 people every year in Kenya, while another 12,000 people die through 'second-hand' smoking. The government has also recently announced that images of throat cancer tumours and rotten teeth will appear on cigarette packs before 2012 to discourage smokers.

Written by: Gitonga Njeru

Date published: December 2010

 

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