By Marlene Angir

Kenya is the first country to roll out the tobacco free farms project which aims to improve health and livelihoods by shifting farmers from growing tobacco to other sustainable crops.

Tobacco farmers and their families are exposed to serious health risks through nicotine absorbed through the skin when handling wet tobacco leaves, exposure to heavy use of pesticides and to tobacco dusts. Tobacco is also associated with increased gender inequality, deforestation, soil degradation and contamination of water supplies.

The project, a joint initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in collaboration with the government of Kenya is being implemented in Migori county.

The farmers have planted high-iron beans as an alternative crop, with UN agencies and the government providing training, quality inputs such as seeds and fertilizers, and a ready market for the harvest, through WFP’s local procurement initiatives.

This support enables farmers to stop risky tobacco farming and transition to producing sustainable crops that will help feed communities instead of harming their health, with confidence that a long-term market exists.

In a statement, the Health Cabinet Secretary (CS) Mutahi Kagwe noted that the government was working towards attaining Universal Health Coverage for all Kenyans and any projects that would reduce or alleviate medical expenses for most Kenyans were welcome.

“The project in Migori for the tobacco farmers is a major shift towards attaining a healthy nation and the Ministry of Health fully supports such ventures,” he said.

Tobacco kills more than 8 million people around the world every year and over one million of those death are attributed to exposure to second-hand smoke. In Kenya, more than 6,000 people die of tobacco-related diseases every year (79 men and 37 women die per week). An estimated 220,000 children and 2,737,000 adults use tobacco each day in the country.

Kenya was one of the first countries to ratify the legally binding WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in 2004 and has been a key player in implementing effective tobacco control measures. The Convention and Kenya Tobacco Control Act promote economically viable alternatives to tobacco production as a way of preventing possible adverse social and economic impacts on populations whose livelihood depend on tobacco production.

“I appreciate all the partners in the Tobacco Free Farms project for choosing Kenya and more specifically Migori County to pilot this important global initiative aimed at curtailing the adverse health, environmental and economic effects of tobacco growing and utilization,” said Migori’s Governor Zachariah Okoth Obado.