•Geoffrey Chabari, vice chair of the Tobacco Control and Health Promotion Alliance, also urged county governments to play their role in reducing tobacco demand in Kenya.
•Tobacco farming requires a lot of water and nutrients, and when mismanaged, tobacco farming can lead to soil depletion and desertification.
Health advocates have now called for a nationwide exit strategy to limit or ban tobacco production in Kenya.
They said this will free more than 13,500 hectares in seven counties for growing food and other more profitable crops.
Several studies done in Kenya show tobacco is not profitable to farmers, who are tied to its farming by contracts with leaf buyers.
It also leads to labour exploitation, environmental degradation, and health problems for farmers.
The Tobacco Control and Health Promotion Alliance noted countries such as Mozambique, Egypt and Sri Lanka have already implemented exit strategies that limit or ban tobacco production.
The alliance, also known as KETCA, is the umbrella body for 25 health advocacy groups including the Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance-Kenya.
The alliance chairperson Joel Gitali said tobacco was introduced in Kenya by the colonial government in 1950s and should already have been phased out by the independent nation.
“It is a colonial crop that cannot be intercropped with other crops because it poisons the soil. This means we see high levels of malnutrition in the tobacco growing areas,” he said.
Gitali spoke in Nairobi at the Kenya National Theatre where the 25 tobacco-control organisations marked the World No Tobacco Day.
Kenya has about 55,000 tobacco farmers, according to a 2016 study by the International Institute for Legislative Affairs, a Nairobi legal non-profit.
The IILA study, titled Economics of Tobacco Farming in Kenya, suggested that almost half of tobacco farmers (49.23 per cent) were ready to switch from tobacco to another crop.
Currently, tobacco is grown in Migori, Homa Bay, Busia, Bungoma, Meru, Embu and Kirinyaga counties.
The proportion of farmers considering quitting was highest in Migori, at 57.97 per and 29 per cent in Bungoma.
The Kenya Tobacco Control Act compels the government to help tobacco farmers find viable alternative crops.
“This research demonstrates that many farmers are unhappy with growing tobacco and open to switching to alternatives,” IILA report noted.
“As well, the government should consider playing a more active role monitoring the tobacco companies that grade and price the tobacco, oftentimes within the constraints of contracts that appear to strongly favour the tobacco leaf buying companies over the farmers,” it added.
A United Nations-supported project to free farmers in Migori from tobacco was also mentioned as successful.
A total of 406 acres of tobacco farms in Migori have been transitioned to alternative crops, under the Tobacco Free Farms Project, which started in 2021.
At the start of 2022, about 1070 farmers had transitioned from tobacco and the majority were growing iron beans.
Geoffrey Chabari, vice chair of the Tobacco Control and Health Promotion Alliance, also urged county governments to play their role in reducing tobacco demand in Kenya.
“They should work with community-based organisations to protect public places including hospitals, hotels, schools and parks from secondhand smoke,” he said.
Tobacco has no benefit to the human body and kills at least 6,000 Kenyans every year, according to the Ministry of Health.
Last week, health advocates faulted the government for not raising taxes on tobacco and nicotine products in the Finance Bill 2023.
“It is crucial for a product with such detrimental health effects to be subject to higher taxes. Taxation has been proven to be an effective tool in reducing smoking rates and ensuring that tobacco duties contribute significantly to government revenues,” Gitali said.
The annual World No Tobacco Day campaign is a World Health Organization campaign marked every year to raise awareness on the harmful and deadly effects of tobacco use.
The theme this year is “We need food, not tobacco”.