By George Munene
Former tobacco farmers in Migori county are shifting to planting high-iron beans under the World Health Organization (WHO) Tobacco-Free Farms project that provides a ready market for their harvest, inputs in seeds and fertilizers as well as farmer training.
Farmer groups participating in the project have thus far sold 135 metric tons of beans to the World Food Programme (WFP), giving them significantly more earnings than they would have gotten from tobacco farming.
The program helps empower the farmers by providing them with long-term markets for food crops allowing them to end contractual tobacco-growing agreements.
The alternative crops grown will also help feed their communities instead of harming their health.
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“Tobacco growing farmers must be given the necessary support to switch to alternative crops that have the potential to improve their health and livelihoods as well as reduce the supply of tobacco,” says Dr. Juliet Nabyonga, WHO’s Representative to Kenya. “It’s projects like this that move the needle in the fight against the global tobacco epidemic.”
According to the UN the initiative which also incorporates the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP), and the Kenyan government has seen hundreds of long-time tobacco farmers switch to alternative crops, plant high-iron beans in fields where only tobacco grew. This has seen farmers’ health improve, increased school attendance from children previously working on the farms, and better crops for the environment replacing tobacco.
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Kenya is the project’s pilot country, chosen for its continued mobilised efforts to fight the scourge of tobacco.
WHO statistics show that over 6,000 Kenyans die of tobacco-related diseases every year. This number stands at eight million globally every year, with over one million of the deaths caused by second-hand smoke.