Anti-smoking activists are urging the government of Kenya to reverse a deal to export more tobacco to South Korea, reports The Star.
During a recent visit to South Korea, Kenyan President William Ruto signed a bilateral trade agreement that will see Kenya increase its exports of tea, coffee and tobacco.
The Kenya Tobacco Control Alliance (KETCA) has asked the president to reconsider his decision, citing fears that the agreement will persuade farmers to grow tobacco even as health advocates are encouraging them to replace the golden leaf with other cash crops.
Concerned about the environmental and health effects of tobacco production and consumption, the World Health Organization, the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization in collaboration with the Kenyan government launched a project to discourage tobacco production in western Kenya in March.
The project enables the farmers to stop tobacco growing contractual agreements and switch to food crops that will help feed communities.
According to KETCA national coordinator Thomas Lindi, Kenya’s Tobacco Control Act also commits the government to continually phase out tobacco farming in Kenya.
“Any treaty or agreement that binds Kenya to promote tobacco farming is against the Tobacco Control Act and is therefore illegal,” he said. “We ask the government to immediately cancel aspects of the Kenya-South Korea agreement that touch on tobacco.”
Tobacco is a key cash crop for at least 55,000 farmers in Kenya, mostly from the western and southeastern parts of the country. Though the overall contribution to the national economy is relatively small (about 0.03 percent of GDP), tobacco is an important economic activity in the regions where it is farmed.