Lucy Anaya: Tobacco Firms Hiding Nyanza Deadly Facts - The Star

British American Tobacco released this year's earnings of 1,400 farmers in some region in Nyanza as Shl89,000 million from 3.9 million kilos of tobacco leaf. And last year, BAT gave inputs to farmers whose cost was calculated as Sh150 million. It is common knowledge that the inputs must be deducted from the interest.

This is basic math any layman can calculate. Take Sh188 million minus Sh150 million expenses incurred by BAT. You get Sh38 million. Divide this figure with 1,400 farmers and you will get something close to Sh27,143. An average African family especially in the rural setup is seven. Therefore, if you take the Sh27,000 a tobacco farmer earns in one year, divide with each head in the family, the amount is ridiculous.

The report further talked of a woman from Migori who was once a sugarcane farmer but now grows tobacco. It stated that she earned Sh100,000 last year, double what she used to get before. The captions on her picture touching the crop barehanded, oblivious of the health effects, read that she earned Sh220,000.

The environmental and health consequences of tobacco production and consumption are well-documented. That tobacco production exposes peasant farmers to some of the worst and intricate game of exploitation on labour, income and other resources is no secret. Tobacco-growing areas in Western, Nyanza and Eastern provinces are the poorest of the poor.

Malawi and Bangladesh, the leading tobacco growing countries in the world, are among the poorest in the world. Tobacco is never planted in Europe because of health effects.

In this country, tobacco farmers mortgage their farms, where they could grow subsistence crops, mortgage their time, intellectual prowess and effort to produce the crop for very unreliable returns.

They are paid Sh75 or Sh25 per kilo for the finest tobacco in the world. From 1 kg, the industry makes Sh3,000-Sh4,500. Whichever the case, the products of this very crop when consumed in various ways have a devastating health impact. It should be a human rights issue.

Last month, there was yet another story of a woman of 56 years from the same region who is paying dearly from growing tobacco. The woman has never smoked in her life. But today one of her lungs is badly damaged as a result of exposure to tobacco fumes during curing and using her bedroom for storage of the harvested crop. Doctors have confirmed to her the lung is beyond repair and only needs a transplant abroad. Now if you calculate the period of hospitalisation, doctors' fees, travel costs, among others things, the figure is between Shl4 million and Sh27 million.

The questions Kenyans should pose to BAT are — is the amount a farmer gets able to sustain him and his family, cater for their medical bills and if yes, to What extent? Is it worth the period of nine months a farmer toils to prepare seedbeds, plant, weed and harvest?

Are farmers given protective gear and storage facilities? Has BAT installed storage facilities since most farmers use their bedrooms and houses to store the crop after harvesting?

How is the crop cured without using firewood?

If the company can answer all these questions, it still has to explain why the crop can never mix with other crops? If it is less harmful, why is it that even herbivores do not move near it? And, what efforts are they doing to reclaim the fast declining soil fertility caused by use of strong pesticides.

There has been outcry from tobacco farmers over poor pay and working under deplorable conditions. They are bitter about the way they are being exploited by the leaf companies and have even threatened to uproot the crop.

A study done in parts of South Nyanza and Western Provinces indicates that up to 60 per cent of medical consultations are attributable to production and home processing of tobacco.

Women complained of miscarriages during harvesting stage and use of child labour.

These are some of the facts the tobacco industry try to cover up, by continuously lying to the government and to the public of the danger of their products.

They still go against the spirit of the Tobacco Control Act with impunity, very much in spite of and against the known fact that tobacco is among the leading preventable cause of death and disability in the world today.

It is time to ensure that everyone shares the right to a clean and safe and healthy environment free of tobacco.

Lucy Anaya is the communication officer of the Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance.

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