The Tobacco Control Bill 2014 has sparked off debate among health and environmental activists, lawmakers, tobacco farmers and companies.
Dr Chris Baryomunsi, Kinkiizi East MP during a committee session between the Parliamentary Committee on Health and tobacco industry representatives, on April 20, claimed that areas in his constituency that grow tobacco are poorer compared to areas that grow tea, coffee and other crops.
Following a number of debates about the state of tobacco farmers in Uganda, Seeds of Gold sounded out some tobacco farmers.
Rewards to farmers
Ronald Osubia, 40, a resident of Bombo village, Kigorobya Subcounty in Hoima District, has grown tobacco for 17 years.
“Tobacco growing has made me a millionaire. I earn over Shs 50 million annually,” he says. He grows between 15 to 20 acres of tobacco per season. “I recently harvested 11 tonnes,” the father of six adds.
Osubia sold his tobacco produce at Shs4,500 per kilogramme. In comparison, a maize farmer in Busoga earned shs700 per kilogramme of maize last year or would have Shs7.7m from 11 tonnes.
From his harvest and savings last year, he raised Shs 90m from which he bought a lorry and put up a commercial building. Osubia is among the hundreds of prosperous tobacco farmers in Bunyoro.
Samuel Aseera, 60, who grows five acres of tobacco every season says British American Tobacco Uganda has supported him to diversify his agriculture by planting food crops and setting up a private eucalyptus plantation.
“I benefit from agricultural extension services, which have boosted my productivity. Using incomes from tobacco, I have educated my children, built a residential house and bought a motorcycle,” says Aseera,a resident of Kitoba Sub-county.
Last year, the tobacco industry in Uganda paid out up to Shs81b in crop purchase from farmers and Shs30b in extension services and training. This is according to a paper presented to the parliamentary committee on health by the industry representatives.
Despite enjoying the economic returns of the labour, they are anxious about the Tobacco Control Bill that seeks to regulate tobacco growing and transactions.
Hurt the industry
“The Bill does not intend to phase out tobacco production in the country but is after regulating its consumption and emphasising measures on its production without causing harm to innocent ones.” Dr Baryomunsi argues.
Two weeks ago, more than 10,000 farmers under their umbrella body, Uganda Tobacco Farmers, petitioned parliament to review the bill on grounds that if passed in its current form, the legislation is likely to hurt tobacco growing in Uganda.
The fears by farmers follow the tabling of an amended Tobacco Control Bill, a private members’ Bill, aimed at regulating the tobacco industry, in March this year.