• Head of the Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance Joel Gitali, who won the award last year, congratulated the winners.
• Kenyan law stipulates a need for an alternative to tobacco production that protects farmers.
A villager who helps tobacco farmers move to better cash crops, and a Nairobi city official who leads anti-smoking campaigns, have been awarded by the World Health Organization boss Tedros Adhanon.
The Migori government is also being awarded for supporting hundreds of former tobacco farmers to transition into alternative crops.
Tobacco use kills about 9,000 Kenyans every year through diseases such as cancer, the Ministry of Health says.
The Migori farmer, Sprina Robi Chacha, ditched tobacco farming about two years ago and has helped her friends transition into economically viable crops.
Tobacco is not only harmful when smoked, but the process of harvest and curing leaves farmers with persistent skin and respiratory infections.
Antony Muthema, the head of the tobacco control unit of Nairobi city, who is being awarded, has been fighting public smoking and the illegal use of shisha in Nairobi.
“Every year, WHO recognises individuals or organisations in each of the six WHO regions for their accomplishments in the area of tobacco control,” the WHO said in a statement.
The WHO will present the awards officially at the World No Tobacco Day celebrations on Wednesday in Migori county.
Migori is one of three counties where most tobacco farming in Kenya takes place. The crop contributes less than one per cent to Kenya’s GDP while leaving those who grow it in poverty.
Kenya was one of the first countries to ratify the legally binding WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2004 and adopted the Kenya Tobacco Control Act in 2007.
Both documents stipulate a need for an alternative to tobacco production that protects farmers.
Last year, the government and UN agencies launched Tobacco Free-Farms project in Migori, helping more than 900 farmers grow high-iron beans as an alternative crop.
The UN agencies and government provide training, quality inputs such as seeds and fertilisers, and a ready market for the harvest, through the World Food Programme’s (WFP’s) local procurement initiatives.
Head of the Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance Joel Gitali, who won the award last year, congratulated the winners.
“We need more such champions. Tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest killers in Kenya. Not only does it lead to the loss of about 9,000 lives but it also leaves others disabled and with life-long complications,” he said.
Tobacco-Free Farms project is a joint initiative of the WHO, the World Food Programme, and the Food and Agriculture Organization, in collaboration with the Government of Kenya.
This support enables the farmers to stop tobacco-growing contractual agreements and switch to alternative food crops that will help feed communities instead of harming their health, with confidence that a long-term market exists.
The beans are a less labour-intensive cash crop selling for about Sh130 per kilogramme.
When the project was launched last year, former Health CS Mutahi Kagwe said such projects put the health of Kenyans first.
The CS noted that the government was working towards attaining Universal Health Coverage for all Kenyans and any projects that would reduce or alleviate medical expenses for Kenyans are most welcome.
“The project in Migori for the tobacco farmers is a major shift towards attaining a healthy nation and the Ministry of Health fully supports such ventures,” Kagwe said.
More than 6,000 Kenyans die of tobacco-related diseases yearly (79 men and 37 women die per week), according to the Ministry.
An estimated 220,000 children and 2,737,000 adults use tobacco each day in the country. Tobacco kills more than eight million people around the world every year. More than one million of those deaths are attributed to exposure to second-hand smoke.