During the week of July 29th, 2019, researchers from the International Institute for Legislative Affairs (Kenya) and the American Cancer Society released preliminary results from two recent waves of a longitudinal economic survey that track the livelihoods of smallholder tobacco farmers in Kenya.  Over two growing seasons, the researchers closely followed both farmers currently growing tobacco and those who had stopped growing it (and vice versa). Among the many findings was that the median non-tobacco farming household had approximately double the household resources compared to the ones that grew tobacco.  Though raw incomes didn’t vary too much between the two groups, the non-tobacco households allocated much of their precious land to own-consumption, typically producing food crops.  Thus, they were growing their own food rather than cultivating tobacco and using the cash earned to buy food for their families. This was considerably better economically for these families largely because the costs of growing tobacco—both direct costs and particularly household labor costs— were typically so high that farmers were not making any profit after selling the leaf. Moreover, the results demonstrate that farmers who shifted away from tobacco typically experienced a significant increase in household resources, while the farmers who shifted their crops back toward more tobacco typically experienced declines in their household resources. These findings are consistent with a 2016 study on Kenyan tobacco farmers. The take-home: tobacco farmers in Kenya would be far better off to shift away from tobacco cultivation.  Furthermore, government programs that help farmers make these shifts could further enhance their economic livelihoods, such as helping to provide credit to grow other crops, provide extension services to teach farmers to grow other profitable crops and supply and value chain enhancement.

Peter Magati from ILA speaking to agricultural ministry officials in Meru county, a major tobacco-growing region

By Peter Magati & Jeff Drope