After WHO reporting that non communicable disease will be the leading cause of death in low and middle income countries such as Uganda by 2030 (currently at 4.9 million deaths annually from a cigarette smoking population of 1.1 billion). Such a statistic convinced the Parliament of Uganda’s Committee on Health to table the Tobacco Control Bill 2014. Among other factors, such occurrences cause market changes thus affecting its purchase from the local farmers. Controversially however; it has not caused a proportionate slump in growing and farming of tobacco. The purpose of this piece is to understand why farmers continue to grow tobacco even amidst the poor market conditions compared to other cash crops.
Man expending his time in his tobacco field (Photo by: AP)
It is inarguable that tobacco farming has become undesirable but it is also clear that we still have a long way to go since tobacco is still grown across the country and it is still a major cash crop grown by about 75,000 farmers in 25 districts in Uganda; the farmers are sporadically spread over West Nile, Bunyoro, middle - northern and south-western Uganda.
In Arua, Terego and Maracha, in every ten plantations, eight are for tobacco. In Maracha, the populace holds that almost all people who got decent education achieved their feat due to income from tobacco sales thus a practice not worth ditching. In Arua, people believe that tobacco is the main livelihood source and the least they are willing to do is stopping to grow it.
Most farmers are attached to a tobacco buyer. In West Nile, most of them are working for British American Tobacco (BAT) whose license was cancelled. These buying companies give farmers loans that are used to buy fertilizers and other inputs needed in tobacco growing. So this has tied farmers to stay in the tobacco business, even when willing to move on. A 2012 report by Centre for Tobacco Control in Africa (CTCA) shows that tobacco cultivation is a labor - intensive process that hastily drains soil nutrients and requires tremendous use of pesticides and fertilizers.
Tobacco growth largely depends on weather and will thrive in the rainy season, any reduction in rainfall means one thing; facing losses head-on. During times Mother Nature does not smile at them, they automatically face losses. The leaves are also highly affected by hailstorms. Further, unlike food crops like tomatoes, cabbages, groundnuts which mature in three months, tobacco requires an amorous seven months to grow therefore a farmer can only afford a single season.
Conclusively, agricultural bodies need to come up with a workable farmer education plan. Creating financial literacy, change strategy and availing alternative food crops to tobacco. Farmers need to understand and be made appreciate the alternatives they have to tobacco.