Tobacco farmers in Bunyoro, West Nile and northern regions have launched a campaign to collect signatures among families whose livelihoods depend on the crop to petition the Speaker of Parliament, Ms Rebecca Kadaga and the government following the tabling of the Tobacco Control Bill.
The Bill was tabled in Parliament by Mr Chris Baryomonsi, the Kinkinzi East MP, last week. Mr Peter Atria, a farmer leader in Arua District, said growers in West Nile were disappointed that Ms Kadaga and the government accepted the Bill without their input and yet they are key stakeholders in the tobacco industry.
“How can they table a Bill that has serious effects on our lives and those of our children without ever asking for our views? What are the intentions of the people behind this Bill?” he asked.
The farmers argue that for the past two years, they have been reading media reports about an anti-tobacco group seeking to ban the sector, with no clear response from the government on its position.
Mr Baryomunsi said the Bill is meant to protect Ugandans from health effects of tobacco consumption.
It also aims at regulating the sale and consumption of cigarettes.
According to the industry statistics, there are more than 60,000 farmers in Uganda.
The crop contributes about Shs176 billion in foreign exchange per annum, while tobacco companies pay more than Shs100 billion in taxes to the government annually.
Ms Jesse Kasaijja a tobacco farmer in Hoima, said while farmers are willing to grow alternative crops, they are afraid of leaving tobacco because the Bill does not guarantee that farmers who stop growing the crop will have a ready market for others.