Kenya might not grow tobacco any more from 2025 if a recommendation to spend Sh20 billion to phase it out is implemented.
The money will be used in financing alternative agricultural activities.
The recommendation has been put forward by anti-tobacco crusaders —mainly nongovernmental organisations — who want the central government to allocate Sh10 billion from tobacco trade taxes for the project while the counties growing the crop will raise the other half.
This means that if the proposal is implemented, local manufacturers will have to import tobacco leaf, a key raw material in their operations.
The recommendations were presented in a joint brainstorming forum convened by the Institute for Natural Resources and Technology Studies (INRS) in Kirinyaga County recently.
In attendance were representatives of several institutions that have been vocal on the need to eradicate tobacco growing in the country citing economic and health hazards.
Ms Emma Wanyonyi, a public education and capacity building and programme officer at the International Institute for Legislative Affairs (ILA), said the issue has been pending since it was first recommended to the government in 2001.
“There is nothing new we are recommending. The only variation is the size of the budget which was Sh8 billion then and implementing authorities since we did not have devolved system of governance then,” she say.
“We are now aware that the budget is bigger and we have to accommodate County governments that by law are custodians of agricultural policies on the ground.”
She said the budget will cater for the estimated 20,000 small-scale farmers who rely on tobacco farming as a livelihood. Current annual production is estimated at 16,000 tonnes.
“It is incumbent upon county governments to lead from the front and implement the recommendations. We have written to county governments to persuade them that they can better battle poverty levels through other agricultural ventures than growing tobacco,” said Ms Wanyonyi.
The key areas growing tobacco are in what was previously called Southern Nyanza — Migori, Kuria, Suba and Homa bay. In Western Kenya, it is grown in Bungoma, Busia, Teso and Mount Elgon while in the Central Kenya it is farmed in Kirinyaga, Muranga and Thika. In the Eastern region, it is grown in Meru, Kitui and Machakos counties.
The INRS coordinator Mr Samuel Achola said the country is “running a killer and poverty breeding agribusiness venture in entertaining tobacco farming.”
He said economics of scale do not favour tobacco farming as a good economic occupation due to its “grave health, environmental and social ramifications.”
He said Kenyan, like most other developing countries, treasures tobacco firms because of the revenues they generate through tax.
“In fact between the tobacco firms, the farmers and the government, it is the government that is the greatest beneficiary,” Mr Achola said.