Tobacco Farming in Kenya
Tobacco Farming in Kenya – Tobacco is mostly grown in south Nyanza of Kenya where the land under cultivation has increased rapidly and often at the expense of the traditional food crops and livestock activities.
Kenyan tobacco farmers are struggling under the burden of credit extended to them by manufacturers. Tobacco farmers in Kenya believe that the inputs given to them as a loan in the form of seeds, pesticides and fertilisers tend to be overpriced. Farmers are losing money once deductions are made for the loan, labour, fuel and costs.
This situation did not improve over the review period. The political unrest at the beginning of the year also contributed to the situation, making it very difficult for farmers to meet their obligations.
Tobacco Farming in Kenya – Growing zones
In Kenya, tobacco farming takes place in Western (Bungoma, Busia, Teso and Mount Elgon districts), Central (Kirinyaga, Muranga, and Thika districts) and Eastern (Meru, Kitui and Machakos districts) provinces). However, most of the 80% tobacco production is taking place in the Southern Nyanza region mainly in Migori, Kuria, Suba and Homa bay areas of the Nyanza region.
Approximately 35000 small‐scale farmers grow tobacco in Kenya, in Eastern, Western, Central & Nyanza Provinces. In all, 4500 hectares of land is devoted to tobacco farming, representing 0.19% of total arable land. BATK has a contractual arrangement with around 20000 of these small‐scale farmers. It offers them crop inputs and advice, and buys leaf from them once dried (cured). The price farmers receive for their tobacco leaf is dependent on BATK’s evaluation of its quality. Usually no independent assessors are present.
Arising from the campaign mounted against tobacco in the West, multinational tobacco firms are increasingly turning to the developing countries where their activities face little challenge, if any. In
Kenya, agricultural production of tobacco is assuming a very significant prominence.
Tobacco growing introduced into the country 30 years ago has increased tremendously over the years. Today, it is grown by about 20,000 small scale farmers over on 15,000 hectares of land. Current annual production is estimated at 16,000 tonnes.
The Kenyan Government, as most other developing countries, treasures the tobacco firms because of the revenues generated by the tobacco firms through taxes remitted. In fact between the tobacco firms,
the farmers and the government, it is the government that is the greatest beneficiary.
Under BATK contracts, crop inputs such as seeds, pesticides and fertilisers are given to farmers as a loan, which is then deducted from their final earnings. BAT documents suggest that traditionally the costs of such inputs were financed by the state, although we have been unable to confirm this. Interviews with tobacco farmers suggest that these inputs are grossly overpriced, with one farmer stating “The loan the tobacco firm provides is really weighing down on us. Actually after the deduction you get nothing. Year in year out of the company ensures that you have an outstanding loan”.Such findings are substantiated through research on a small number of tobacco farmers which shows that having allowed for the loan, labour, fuel and costs, over 80% are losing money.
Despite widespread perceptions of the economic importance of tobacco leaf, independent data suggest that tobacco makes a minimal contribution to Kenyan exports. Between 1961 and 2001, the maximum contribution that all tobacco exports made in dollar terms to Kenya’s total merchandise exports was 4% during the early 1960s, since when the proportion has fallen to between 0.05% and 2%. Over the same period, leaf exports alone contributed only between 0.1% and 0.8%. The Ministry of Agriculture data also suggest that a shift to other cash crops could provide far greater revenues to Kenya’s tobacco farmers.In the Eastern province in 1999, for example, mangoes were 37 times more profitable, whereas papaya and cotton each similarly dwarfed farmers’ earnings from tobacco.
Tobacco Farming in Kenya – Challenges
- Preliminary investigations reveal that tobacco farming is highly labour-intensive.
- Earnings from tobacco are not commensurate with the input by the farmers.
- Child labour and school drop-out are common features in the tobacco growing zones.
- During drying of tobacco leaves (curing) a lot of biomas from indigenous flora is used. This leads to deforestation and even soil erosion.
- The curing plants (barns) are designed in such a way that the farmers are exposed to tobacco smoke – potentially making them candidates for tobacco-related diseases.
- Schemes of the anti-tobacco crusaders