The crusade towards a tobacco-free Tanzania

Tuesday May 31 2016

Majority of farmers have left tobacco farming

Majority of farmers have left tobacco farming and have gone in for alternative crops. PHOTO I FILE 

By Tasneem Hassanali @thassanali thassanali@tz.nationmedia.com

Majority of the farmers in Mtonya village in Namtumbo district in Ruvuma have willingly left tobacco farming and have gone in for alternative crops such as maize, demeaning the tobacco industry as non-lucrative.

Tanzania after becoming signatory to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the first international treaty adopted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2003 on controlling the tobacco epidemic, tobacco control activist Lutgard Kagaruki proposed to discourage tobacco cultivation by promoting alternative crops in tobacco growing areas, with the main objective of ‘saving lives of Tanzanians, specifically the farmers’.

“In 2006, I found out that farmers of a village in Namtumbo district are in a pathetic condition. So I went down, but the farmers refused to meet with us, assuming that we were in support of the government. I heard their voices, they were bitter,” added Mrs Kagaruki.

What had transpired earlier that year was that the tobacco farmers were not paid. “Their plight was unbearable to see and hear. They were hungry and sick. The poor farmers became poorer. They opened up to me gradually,” said Mrs Kagaruki.

The tobacco industry have been deceiving the farmers and ripping them off by firstly, giving them subsidies to farm, such as fertilizers and chemicals at a very high price, then devaluing their produce and paying them very low. “So what was happening is that the farmers were not able to pay the loan back to the industry and eventually the farmers ended up auctioning the small assets they owned, example utensils. I’ve even seen people de-roof their homes, so that the iron sheets could be compensated for the loan of subsidies. Their stories were touching,” Mrs Kagaruki further explained.

Besides tobacco farming being non-lucrative, the farmers suffer a lot during handling of the raw tobacco causing them green leaf disease. “The nicotine gets into the farmer’s skin where they suffer from nausea, headache and most of them chew raw tobacco because addiction gets into their system defacto. And these consequences are ignored by the tobacco industry who fail to inform farmers,” said Mrs Kagaruki.

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Most of the farmers did not know how to dissociate themselves from tobacco farming, even though they wanted to, because it was an activity drawn down by past generations. Mrs Kagaruki tried to explain to them that they need to start adopting other farming crops for instance maize. At least they would have food to eat, and the little money they make, is theirs, not indebted to anyone.

“Six months later, the chairman of the village came to see me. He said we need you to help us with an oil extraction machine as we have 100 acres of sesame and 100 acres of sunflower. I was taken aback but excited,” Mrs Kagaruki recalled.

Despite efforts, Mrs Kagaruki was not able to collect a sum of $5000 to invest in the machines, but she encouraged them to sell anyway. She added, “I got a phone call saying that for the first time in so many years, the farmers claimed that they had money. This changed my perception towards everything and motivated me to keep fighting for the many farmers who are stuck in this status-quo, who are deceived by the tobacco industry and to fight for the youth who are also deceived by the industry.”

Tobacco control activist, Mrs Kagaruki is also the Executive Director of a non-government organisation called Tanzania Tobacco Control Forum (TTCF), which has played a significant role in Tanzania’s fight against tobacco consumption.

Through TTCF’s serious sensitization, Tanzanians are more aware now about the effects of tobacco use, than they were few years ago. The increased awareness amongst the community has resulted in decreased smoking, particularly among the adult population, unfortunately the rate seems to be going up among the youths. In 2008, Global Youth Tobacco survey revealed that the youth who used all tobacco products in some parts of Tanzania were 10.6% in Arusha, 7.6% in Dar es Salaam and 10.9% in Kilimanjaro.

TTCF has also played a significant role during the FCTC ratification process in Tanzania in 2007 by re-educating the MP’s about tobacco not being vital for country’s economy. TTCF through its advocacy campaigns showed the key decision makers testimonials of the farmers in 2007 of how tobacco farming was not profitable for the country and how it affected the lives of many. Mrs Kagaruki said, “It is a shame that whilst our neighboring countries and other countries are lowering the production of tobacco, Tanzania’s graph line is going way up. Between 2010 and 2012, Tanzania’s tobacco production has increased 200 per cent. It is not something to be proud of.”

This year Uganda just passed the strongest tobacco control law in Africa. Sheesha and electronic cigarettes are banned in public areas and one cannot smoke 50metres away from a citizen. Kenya has hiked a 60% tax on tobacco products.

Rwanda and Burundi have no commercial tobacco farming and Kenya and Uganda have decreased their production to a greater extent. It is a myth that tobacco makes money for the country. Example; In Kenya, tobacco farming is restricted to just an acre, and there is a lot of advocacy on alternative crops. “What is Tanzania doing, to be dictated by tobacco industry?” questions Mrs Kagaruki.

Although TTCF’s efforts towards FCTC ratification and revision of Tobacco Products Regulation Act of 2003 has been a struggle, TTCF is still struggling with the government to table a strict legislation that confers the WHO’s FCTC.

TTCF and tobacco control activist, Mrs Kagaruki have also gotten support from SIDO, where by they have given entrepreneurship courses on alternative farming to farmers and awarded them with certificates to boost their morale. “The tobacco industry have been playing games with farmers, the industry have gone as far as blocking the legislation to be formed, pretending to do good for farmers and creating a false belief that tobacco production is good for the country,” added the activist. TTCF has also been working towards a smoke-free Dar es Salaam, encourageing farmers to grow alternate crops in other regions of Tanzania such as Tabora, persuaded the government to ban sales of the smokeless tobacco brand Kuber, which was smuggled into the country and became popular among the youth, campaigning Tanzania airports to be smoke free, struggling to come up with a strict legislation and laws for tobacco control in Tanzania.

World No Tobacco Day

Every year, on May 31, World Health Organisation and its member partners mark World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) highlighting the health risks associated with tobacco use and advocating for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption.

This year for WNTD, WHO Framework Convention are calling countries to get ready for plain (standardised) packaging of tobacco products and Tanzania is no exception. Plain packaging is an important demand reduction measure that reduces the attractiveness of tobacco products, prohibits the use of logos, colours, brand images or promotional information and increasing the effectiveness of health warnings, explained Ms Lutgard Kagaruki. “Australia became the first country to implement fully tobacco plain packaging and evidence show that it has reduced the appeal of tobacco products, increased its effectiveness on health warnings and reduced the ability to mislead,” she added.

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