Can tobacco growing pave way for livelihood crops?

Can tobacco growing pave way for livelihood crops?

Some authors stress that tobacco firms should be socially responsible by encouraging farmers to save some portion of land to grow staple crops.

Scope of tobacco farming in Uganda

Article 17 of the WHOFCTC compels parties to promote viable alternative livelihoods for tobacco farmers. It can clearly be noted that fewer governments have done so. Hundreds of thousands of families within low and middle income countries are engaged in tobacco agriculture (Keyser, 2007).

Uganda has about 75,000 tobacco farmers (The Guardian, 2014). Most of the tobacco leaf in Uganda is grown in districts of Masindi, Hoima, Kiryandongo, Arua, and Koboko. Kanungu district alone has over 1000 tobacco leaf farmers (Muneza, 2018). These tobacco farmers in Kanungu are farming in sub counties of Nyamirama, Kihiihi and Nyakinoni sub counties. These starts almost tally with WHO Report on status of tobacco production and trade in Africa indicates that crop diversification in the world’s top tobacco producers can lower smoking rates in low-income countries, with about ninety percent of tobacco grown within low and middle income countries (LMICs), where four in five smokers live.

Tobacco leaf growing against staple crop production

The World Food Programme estimates chronically hungry people at 1.02bn from 915m in 2008 (Oguzu, 2009). Most of these hungry people are from either from tobacco, and sugarcane growing areas of the world. Some authors stress that tobacco firms should be socially responsible by encouraging farmers to save some portion of land to grow staple crops. Women and the environment pay the price for tobacco growing, and tobacco farming has trapped poor growers into a never-ending debt cycle. Farmers in tobacco agriculture rarely grow any other staple crop. They take up tobacco leaf production inputs on credit in form of soft loans from tobacco companies. Thus there is need to sensitize tobacco leaf farmers to move out of the vicious debt-cycle.

Why a shift in perception of tobacco farmers could result in adoption of alternative crops

With massive sensitization of the seemingly intrinsic dangers of tobacco growing, it could become possible for tobacco farmers to adopt alternative staple crops.  Such crops could include maize, beans, soya beans, and a blend of cash crops such as coffee. Despite economic gains tending to overshadow the long term health effects that come along with exposure from tobacco farming, all hope is not lost.  In an article published in The Guardian on “Uganda’s tobacco laws could see farmers’ livelihoods go up in smoke” on July, 4th 2014, A tobacco leaf farmer from Uganda named Okippi confessed that crops such as maize are not as profitable as tobacco, since by then a kilogramme of tobacco was bought for 4,000/= Ugandan shillings, an equivalent of $1.60, while that of maize went for just UShs750 ($0.30). Unless farmers are sensitized on health implications associated with tobacco leaf growing, it is evident that economic effects overshadow the health effects.

Some 1.3 million Ugandans are estimated to use tobacco products (Global Tobacco Adult Survey, 2013). Most of these farmers have grown tobacco all their lifetime and some of them are tobacco users. A health record from Mulago Regional Referral hospital attributes over 75% of oral cancer patient’s tobacco use. Most of the tobacco growing communities from the West Nile region, South Western Uganda and mid-western Uganda also register highest levels of environmental degradation. In Hoima district which is found in mid-western Uganda, the forest corridor between Bugoma CFR and Budongo CFR has been highly degraded majorly for tobacco farming. A few staple crops are grown in most of the tobacco growing districts of Uganda.

A shift to alternative crops by former tobacco farmers

All tobacco products start with a simple leaf (Drope et al, 2018). Whereas tobacco kills up to half of its users, resulting in 6 million deaths a year, according to WHO data, a shift in alternative crops could salvage the deaths. More than 5 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while over 600000 are non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. Tobacco farmers are likely to turn into direct smokers or will suffer from second-hand smoke.

Cases of farmers in Uganda abandoning tobacco agriculture have begun to yield results, in article published in the Daily Monitor, Ayebale (2016) reported that around Budongo Central Forest Reserve in Buliisa District, former tobacco farmers reported how they were earning the same or even more from coffee growing as opposed to tobacco which was known to have side effects. A former tobacco farmer Abdul Karim Pasikale was quoted saying “Coffee is more paying than tobacco because I get the same amount of money in the same period of time.

Coffee growing has neither health associated problems nor is it time consuming compared to tobacco.” Another ex-tobacco farmer, Herbert Izooba, from Kalengeija B village in Biiso Sub-county, had shifted to growing cabbage and eggplants. “Vegetable growing is healthier and time-saving compared to tobacco which requires full time attention,” he said. Such case examples provide a basis for introduction of alternative crops to tobacco farmers.

In a study conducted by University of Wisconsin Madison 2000, farmers in North America have long given up on tobacco farming to grow crops such as Echineacea. It is now eighteen years since some farmers gave up tobacco growing in Wisconsin. Echineacea growing was found to be 12% profitable to tobacco. However, in growing of alternative crops to tobacco, it is imperative to answer some key pertinent questions. Foristance, a) Does the alternative crop meet the long-term goals for the farmer and his farmer? b) Do the farms that were once used to grow tobacco have the right type of soil and climate to meet the growing requirements of alternative crops and c) Whether the alternative crop fits well other farm enterprises.

The way forward

There is need to sensitize farmers on the health implications of tobacco leaf growing, curing and processing. Since most farmers look at pseudo economic returns from tobacco leaf growing as opposed to the long term health effects. Sensitization will go a long way to encourage farmers to adopt alternative crops, reduce farmer’s vulnerability to use tobacco products, improve farmer’s knowledge on how to avoid Non-Communicable Diseases such as oral cancer and lung cancer. Further still, sensitization of tobacco farmers on possible alternative staple crops to grow will ensure food security at household level.

The writer is a lecturer/Tobacco control advocate, Nkumba University, School of Sciences, Entebbe – Uganda

Source: New Vision