25 June 2014

Uganda: Farmers Up in Arms Over Anti-Tobacco Bill

Photo: Mabvuto Banda/IPS
Farmers in Uganda protest the Anti-Tobacco Bill 2014 (file photo).

Pressure is mounting on Parliament over the Anti-Tobacco Control Bill 2014 as farmers become the latest group to object to it.

A group of tobacco farmers have written to the speaker of parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, over the bill, which, they say, could deprive them of income. The farmers, under the Uganda Tobacco Growers Association (UTGA), argue that tobacco-growing is a major source of revenue for their families. This, they say, gives them a mandate to react to some of the clauses within the bill. The farmers recently spoke to journalists at Parliament, where they had gone to raise their issues.

With more than 5,000 signatures collected from tobacco farmers and their families across the country, the petition seeks to overturn key clauses in the bill. The farmers place much of their attention on clauses 20-22, which seek to prohibit any partnerships and endorsements within the tobacco industry. This means that any voluntary contributions, incentives or privileges that promote tobacco businesses would be banned.

"All our tobacco growing activities are sponsored by tobacco companies. This means that we are assured of a ready market and agreed prices for our crop at the beginning of each planting season. Compared with the other cash crops, in terms of the timelines and net benefits to us, we have been unable to get from them as much benefits and security as we get with tobacco growing," the petition reads in part.

Peter Atria, the chairman of West Nile Tobacco Farmers Association, and member of UTGA, said any impact on growing tobacco could weigh heavily on the farmers.

"Our enterprise is unique in that we can sell our produce to tobacco companies and any law or other measure that negatively affects the tobacco industry will eventually be borne by the farmers in one way or another," he said.

There are close to 60,000 tobacco farmers in Uganda, who are mostly supported by cigarette companies such as British American Tobacco (BAT), Continental Tobacco (U) Limited and Uganda Tobacco Services limited. The farmers say tobacco is a lucrative crop in a country where weather patterns are unpredictable. They also dispute notions of tobacco-growing affecting soil fertility.

In the petition addressed to Parliament, the farmers say: "We have not experienced the exaggerated negative effects of tobacco growing as indicated by people against tobacco growing. None of us have been involved in any of those surveys and research. If any such research is being done, we as tobacco farmers should be the primary people to give that information."

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