Kenya: Tobacco farmers earning low returns due to alleged exploitation by companies; BAT comments

Author: Elisha Otieno, Daily Nation (Kenya), Published on: 20 September 2018

"Fortunes continue to dwindle for once rich tobacco farmers"

...[Fortunes] in the [tobacco] sector have continued to dwindle by the day due to local and global factors. Migori is the biggest tobacco producer in Kenya, accounting for more than 70 percent of the yields produced in the country, according to Alliance One Tobacco, a leaf-buying organisation. But today, the county has nothing to show for that feat. The industry was collectively paying out over Sh1.7 billion annually to farmers in the region. Alliance Tobacco Kenya was spending Sh1.2 billion on Migori farmers annually. 

But now, poverty is evident in regions where tobacco was once grown...The once flourishing cash crop is dying away...While some farmers have already quit tobacco farming altogether, others are still hanging on, hoping for miracles. Mr Otieno Osoro, 43, from Wang’ Chieng’ village in Uriri remembers the days when tobacco farming posted better returns. “We used to make good money when the sector was booming but now it is a pale shadow of its former self. The firms have introduced many grading systems which only help the companies to pay us peanuts,” he said. “I used to plant tobacco on my three acres farm but now [I] am only allocating one acre to tobacco. The remaining space is set for food crops,” Mr Osoro added...Mr Olima Omondi said the pay today is too little. “We are paid about Sh70 per kilo, from the previous Sh180 per kilo. Companies complain that the quality of leaf from Kenya is no longer attractive in the world market.” “From my two-acre farm, I can only make Sh40,000 - which cannot feed my family of six children and pay their fees,” Mr Omondi said...

But BAT Kenya has come out to deny claims of frustrating their contracted farmers. The firm's manager at Oyani Leaf centre in Migori - Denis Sila - said they were giving their farmers the best treatment. "We have challenges but we are trying our best. Of course we cannot buy all the tobacco being produced by farmers because we have our own targets as a company," he said. Mr Sila explained that he will investigate claims of corruption in the purchase of leaf from growers. "We do not take bribes in order to buy the cash crop from farmers because we have a binding contract with them...but we will investigate the allegations," the official added.

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Related companies: Alliance One British American Tobacco