Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Kenya split on tobacco growing

Growing pressure on the tobacco industry has encouraged the Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance to call on Kenyan tobacco farmers to abandon their crop – a call resisted by tobacco farmers who have seen no viable alternatives opening to them.

The Tobacco Control Alliance has no doubt that its anti-tobacco policies are sound policy. Following the lead of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, they have instituted bans on smoking in public places. The tobacco farmers don't like it because tobacco is a staple crop. But because they have also recently fought the tobacco companies over working conditions, the Tobacco Control Alliance can't understand the farmers' support for the tobacco trade.
The health toll on tobacco workers, according to the tobacco control alliance, is indeed heavy: It is no longer news that women and children from tobacco growing areas continue to suffer from Green Tobacco Sickness (GTS), damaged lungs, amputated legs and other diseases caused by growing and home processing of tobacco ... Not even the wild animals move closer to the leafy crop.
... And so on. The article continues to report the environmental devastation wrought by tobacco: 'Chiefs in this area decry of the fast declining soil fertility and the environmental degradation caused by tobacco curing. They complain of persistent drought, lack of water, famine and death of animals which share the same water source for watering tobacco.'

Nowhere is it reported that any alternatives have presented themselves for tobacco farmers, however. Their problem of being tobacco farmers might be linked to their poverty, but being without a trade won't make them any better off. The agenda of the KTCA is fighting tobacco in collaboration with their colleagues elsewhere in the world. They are not fighting for the interests of the farmers, and can't even understand why the farmers wish to defend an industry that grinds them into the ground.  Because of the KTCA's heavy anti-tobacco agenda it is even hard to ascertain whether tobacco farming is always as exploitative and environmentally destructive as they describe. They certainly don't have the detachment required to assist the farmers to change  to another crop, or even to advise whether this is their best option.

The first story tells us that British American Tobacco are also defending the tobacco trade in Kenya, describing anti-tobacco measures as attempts to restrict trade rather than to promote health. It's hard not to agree, knowing the agenda of the FCTC. A village elder stresses the dangers of transferring to the uncertainties of an alternative crop. Health problems from tobacco farming appear to be tangible, but so far the alternatives aren't presenting themselves (as Mr Abrunhosa of the International Tobacco Growers' Association complained in this video).

It would seem as usual that the rural poor in Kenya are pawns in the games played by larger players. In the meantime I am quite glad that they can express opposition to the tobacco manufacturers on one side and the Kenya Tobacco Control Association on the other.


Anonymous said...

Use of tobacco products such as cigarettes or smokeless tobacco, appears to reduce the risk of GTS due to the body adapting to the intake of nicotine.
Simple...Only employ smokers !!

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