Kenya is Wednesday hosting the commemoration of the “World No Tobacco Day” amid heightened calls that millions of hectares of land globally be dedicated to food as opposed to tobacco production.
The theme of the day to be marked in Migori County is “We need food, NOT tobacco,” a global campaign for raising awareness about alternative crop production and marketing opportunities for tobacco farmers.
Under the Tobacco-Free Farms Project, over 2,000 long-time tobacco farmers in the county have switched to alternative crops, participated in training, and planted high-iron beans in the fields where they used to grow tobacco.
The project has equally seen farmers’ health improve, increased school attendance from children previously working on the farms, and better crops for the environment replacing tobacco.
”The government, and particularly the Ministry of Health, wholeheartedly supports the Tobacco Free Farms Project due to its prioritization of the health of Kenyans. By introducing iron-rich nyota beans, we aim to address the prevalent iron deficiency among women and children, thereby significantly improving their well-being,” said Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha ahead of the commemoration.
With the planned expansion of the Tobacco Free Farms Initiative, more farmers and families in other counties are expected to grow more food and less tobacco.
Kenya was one of the first countries to ratify the legally binding WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in 2004 and has been a key player in implementing effective tobacco control measures.
The Convention and the Kenya Tobacco Control Act promote economically viable alternatives to tobacco production as a way of preventing possible adverse social and economic impact on populations whose livelihoods depend on tobacco production.
“We congratulate Kenya for its efforts to control tobacco and for leading in this transformative – Tobacco Free Farms initiative that is truly changing the lives of farmers and communities for better health,” remarked WHO Country Representative, Dr Abdourahmane Diallo.
“We also appreciate the strengthened partnership of the Ministry of Health, the WHO, the FCTC Secretariat and all the partners in the Tobacco Free Farms project for choosing Kenya and more specifically Migori County to implement this important global initiative.”
Tobacco kills over 8 million people every year with more than 6,000 Kenyans dying of tobacco-related diseases every year (79 men and 37 women die per week).
An estimated 220,000 children and 2,737,000 adults use tobacco each day in the country.
Over one million deaths (from the 8 million-tobacco -related) are attributed to exposure to second-hand smoke.
Tobacco as a cash crop contributes less than 1% of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Its farmers and their families are exposed to serious health risks through nicotine absorbed through the skin when handling wet tobacco leaves, exposure to heavy use of pesticides and to tobacco dust.
Tobacco growing is also associated with increased gender inequality, deforestation, soil degradation, and contamination of water supplies.