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Tobacco farmers switch to alternative crops

A total of 406 acres of tobacco farms in Migori County have been transformed alternative crops by tobacco growers.

The Tobacco Free Farms Project started in 2021 with 370 acres across four wards and saw an upward projection of 134 tonnes to 200 tonnes of beans production. The success of the project has enabled more tobacco farmers to turn to the profitable iron bean commonly referred to as Nyota beans.

At the start of 2022, the Tobacco Free Farms project witnessed 406 acres of tobacco farms being converted into tobacco alternative crops majorly iron beans by 1070 tobacco farmers up from 330 in 2021.

With the success of the project, the funding partners that include the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organisation (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) together with both the national and Migori county government will be scaling-up the initiative from four to 28 tobacco growing wards.

WHO Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases Programme Officer Dr. Joyce Nato said that over 75 percent of the 8 million tobacco came from low and middle income countries with the African content heavily affected.

Nato who spoke during a stakeholders meeting that brought together food and health representatives noted that the project was an important aspect in controlling tobacco usage for the social-economic and health benefits of the local residents.

“Together with our supportive partners we will assist tobacco farmers to do the right agriculture, do market support and do bean seed facilitation to ensure that the local residents live a healthy life free from tobacco growing,” noted Nato.

The iron beans developed by KALRO have become a lifesaver for tobacco growers because of their rich iron, drought resistance and faster maturity of three months. Nato urged those that were still doing tobacco farming to desist from the harmful venture and join the project with an assured market.

WFP Farm to Market Alliance (FtMA) Productivity Lead Officer Mr. Michael Njagi said that they will continue to provide a market for the tobacco alternative crop growers to address the challenges of product sales.

He said that FtMA will support the small farmers that abandoned tobacco to maximise market opportunities through the 48 established farmer service centres across the county.

“Already those that are growing iron beans have a ready market. In the first season, the WFP bought all the beans. In the second and third seasons all the beans were bought by local institutions like hospitals and learning institutions,” said Njagi.

Njagi added that FtMA will continue doing mapping for market development and scale to help open new markets to the local residents with the help of the Cereal Grower Association. The official also acknowledged that FtMA has been involved in a climatic smart agriculture that will ensure beans production is sustained for the next 50 years.

FAO Sub Programme Leader Dr. Barrack Okoba emphasised that tobacco farming cannot generate food nutrition and security in the country. He noted that it’s only through alternative tobacco crops like beans that better production, nutrition and a safe environment can be realised.

Okoba pinpointed that tobacco cannot create a sustainable agricultural food business system that results from the concept of “farm to table.” He said that iron beans and other tobacco alternative crops were providing healthier and more profitable livelihoods to those that had embraced the noble idea.

At the same time the Deputy Head Ministry of Health Tobacco Control Ms. Anne Kendagor pointed out that tobacco related-illnesses like asthma and cancer were on the rise. She noted that these non-communicable diseases were hefty consuming the health budgets that would alternatively be used for other beneficial developmental projects.

Kendagor disclosed that Migori County alone accounted for almost 70 percent of all the tobacco products in the country and yet only a third of the 36,000 tobacco growers were from the county. She explained that the Tobacco Free Farms project was an initiative to free the Migori residents from the slavery of tobacco farming.

Migori has become a bench-marking county for other tobacco growing areas like Busia and Bungoma counties and nation of Zambia. According to Migori County Deputy Governor Dr. Joseph Mahiri the county will continue to tighten the set rules and regulations governing the tobacco business to ensure that the society is free from tobacco effects.

He lauded the efforts done by both the national, county and partners in trying to eradicate tobacco farming in the Nyanza and Western regions. Mahiri called upon the residents of Migori especially the tobacco growers to shift to other tobacco alternative crops in order to avoid tobacco-related diseases like asthma and cancer as well as realise good returns.

By Geoffrey Makokha

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