The despair displayed by disadvantaged farmers of various crops makes it seem impractical that an estimated 35,000 tobacco farmers in Kenya could ever opt to venture into other alternative yet profitable economic activities.
Nonetheless, the war against tobacco industry rages on worldwide due to environmental and health risks consumers are exposed to.
The National Tax Payers Association (NTA) argues that the shift to other farming activities among tobacco farmers is achievable through operationalization of the Tobacco Control Fund and a stricter tax regime.
NTA is now calling on the National Treasury to operationalize the Tobacco Control Fund after a case challenging its implementation was squashed by the Supreme Court in November 2019, five years after its gazettement in 2014.
The solatium compensatory contribution introduced under the Tobacco Control Regulations of 2014 requires cigarette manufacturers and importers to pay 2% of their total earnings for the year to the fund
“The government is supposed to use the fund to undertake matters related to research, cessation (stop tobacco farming and consumption) and generally tobacco control activities. We are still pushing the Treasury, Tobacco Control Board and other tobacco control advocates to ensure the fund is operationalized in order to undertake activities the fund is used for,” said Franciscah Marabu from NTA.
NTA which is currently implementing Tobacco Tax Advocacy project in Africa in Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia, DR Congo and Ghana says the fund will be crucial in supporting programmes that will encourage farmers to shift to other high income farming activities as a way of reducing production, sale and consumption of the tobacco products.
“The reason we are pushing for the fund to be operational as soon as possible is because we realize the burden tobacco has in our system. Through this fund the government will be able to support farmers because we are encouraging tobacco farmers to quit to other economically viable alternatives. So we believe that through this fund the programmes that will be able to support farmers will be alive and there will be resources,” said Achieng Otieno, head of communication and advocacy at the Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), profits from tobacco production among farmers in Kenya are minimal given the input, labour, and other production costs.
For instance, tobacco is estimated to have 220 labour days compared to 50 days for passion fruit, watermelon and soya beans.
On whether farmers have been receptive towards the shift from tobacco, Marabu says, “Counties need to come up with economic activities that will be of benefit to these particular farmers so that when they are shifting from planting tobacco to other viable economic activities its something that will also be in a position to give them income just the way it has with the tobacco plant.”
Under the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC) countries are supposed to provide alternative farming activities to farmers seeking a shift.
Migori, Kitui and Tharaka Nithi are some of the counties that have introduce dairy, bamboo and soya beans farming to as alternatives.
NTA is further encouraging the government to increase tax measures that will see retail price tax on cigarettes increased from the current 58% to at least 70% as recommended by the WHO-FCTC.
It is estimated that 8 billion tobacco sticks are consumed in Kenya annually.