Busia residents are set to benefit from a Tobacco-Free Farms initiative aimed at safeguarding their health and improving their livelihoods.
The Tobacco-Free Farms project is a joint initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in collaboration with the Kenyan Government.
Busia County becomes a beneficiary of the pilot project following a meeting between the Deputy Governor Arthur Odera and a team from the World Health Organization, Kenya Country Office led by Dr. Joyce Nato at the county offices yesterday.
Speaking during the meeting, Odera who gave the WHO team the green light to kick start the initiative across the county said it would play a critical role in curtailing the adverse health, environmental and economic effects of tobacco growing and consumption.
“Busia is an agriculturally endowed county. Although many farmers have been relying on tobacco for many years, all we need is to encourage farmers to venture into a variety of crops instead of one which might be counter-productive like tobacco,”DG Odera said.
“I appreciate the National Government and all the partners in the Tobacco-Free Farms project for choosing Busia County to pilot this important global initiative aimed at curtailing the adverse health, environmental and economic effects of tobacco growing and utilization,” said Odera.
Dr. Nato said the project’s objective is to support tobacco farmers and encourage them switch to other alternative crops.
“Tobacco growing not only exposes farmers to a number of health risks including a form of nicotine poisoning known as green tobacco sickness, but it also contributes to perennial debts, increased gender inequality and significant environmental degradation,” she noted.
“The nicotine in the leaf is very harmful especially to persons who engage in its growth. They absorb nicotine equivalent to a person who smokes 50 cigarettes per day, this is very harmful,” said Dr. Nato.
“Tobacco also bleaches the farms making it difficult to intercrop while its farming involves the use of many agrochemicals which are harmful to human beings, animals and the water table,” she added.
Dr. Nato also told the meeting that tobacco farming leads to deforestation because the leaf must be cured before it is taken to the industry and this involves cutting down of trees for firewood.
Comparatively the WHO official noted that whereas other value chain crops yield over Sh50, 000 per acre, tobacco yields only Sh15, 000.
She disclosed that farmers in Migori who were the first beneficiaries of the pilot project have planted high-iron beans as an alternative crop, with UN agencies and the government providing training, quality inputs such as seeds and fertilizers, and a ready market for the harvest, through WFP’s local procurement initiatives.
She said the support enables the farmers to stop tobacco-growing contractual agreements and switch to alternative food crops that would help feed communities instead of harming their health, with confidence that a long-term market exists.
According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) report released in mid this year, smoking and the use of tobacco-related products kills approximately 6000 Kenyans aged 24 and above and about 8 million people globally.