The government is on the spot for doing little to address problems facing tobacco growing in Nyanza.
Tobacco farming has been practiced in Kuria East and Kuria West constituencies in Migori for many years, enabling many families to cater to their basic needs.
The farmers are now calling on the government to ensure fair trade practices between them and Tobacco Processing Companies which is currently tilted in favour of cigarette manufacturers.
George Chacha, a Governance and Human Rights Expert in Migori, told The Standard the national government should emulate what the governments of Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe are doing to safeguard the interests of farmers.
“It is unfortunate that our government has not involved itself in protecting the interests of Tobacco farmers, they end up being exploited by Tobacco manufacturing companies, our government should borrow a leaf from African countries protecting their farmers,” said Chacha.
Joseph Mwikwabe, 53, has been planting Tobacco at his Tagare village home in Mabera since 1995.
He has around six acres that he uses to plant cash crops. Mwikwabe says in the past farmers were frustrated and forced to stop planting the crop.
Mwikwabe said tobacco farming has earned him good money compared to other farmers who plant maize or beans.
He said he supplies his produce to the British American Tobacco Limited and that one thing that the company has always asked them, is to ensure that they do not involve children under 18 years in farming the crop.
“Tobacco farmers in Migori have been producing the highest amount of tobacco in the country for many years but many of us were discouraged in the past when middlemen appeared to be benefitting than us,” Mwikwabe said.
He has found it easy to adjust from tobacco to maize and beans farming, contrary to a belief that the cash crop makes soils untenable to other crops and that he only ensures there is the proper usage of manure and fertiliser.
Mwikwabe said despite having gone up to Standard Eight, he was proud of having been able to educate his children and build a modern home with proceeds from tobacco farming.
Fred Mogesi, 41, a farmer planting the crop in a three-acre plot in the same village said tobacco is classified in grades A, B, and C with the highest grade earning a farmer around Sh230 for the best quality and Sh60 for the lowest quality.
The farmers called for the reduction of pesticides costs and prompt payment of farmers.
In a statement sent to the Standard, British American Tobacco Limited said it is constantly investing in its business to deliver a positive societal impact.
“We also introduced ridges, transplanters and mechanized ploughing for farmers, to reduce the amount of time and manpower used in tobacco farming,” said the statement by BAT.
Tobacco buyers in Kenya are required by law to contract tobacco farmers for the full tobacco farming cycle. As such, BAT contracts its farmers at the onset of every season and purchases tobacco directly from contracted farmers.
BAT said challenges faced by tobacco growing operations are not unique, however, the continuing decline in tobacco leaf demand due to illicit trade led to a further reduction in the number of farmers contracted for 2021.