The need to have sound policies that support the public sector’s commitment to multi-lateral trade engagements is needed to avoid the creation of unbalanced laws, whose consequences could have unintended negative consequences.
The forum brought together different stakeholders from both the public sector and tobacco industry to discuss the direct impact of implementation of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) framework convention on tobacco control (FCTC) in the region.
KAM Chief Executive Officer Betty Maina said that the health objectives of the WHO FCTC can be achieved through balanced, pragmatic, science and evidence-based policies that are consultative and widely-canvassed.
“Positions and legislation adopted by regional member states should fulfill obligations in terms of trade and health without infringing the rights of the other sector,” she said.
“The challenge the sector faces today is that the developments taking place at the WHO – FCTC have been challenged at the World Trade Organization (WTO) as directly impacting on trade and violate member states commitments under the WTO,” she said.
Maina added that the implementation of FCTC has neither been guided by local policy and legislative frameworks nor aligned to binding obligations under regional and multilateral trade agreements.
“Some of the FCTC proposals include discriminatory measures targeting price and taxation of tobacco products, measures aiming at the elimination of tobacco leaf production through introduction of alternative crops and product ingredients regulation,” she explained.
She told the meeting that the tobacco industry continues to play a key role in generating government revenue and job creation and that any development towards controlling its activities must be sensible and administered according to individual country laws.
“Other than tax revenues, tobacco growing represents an important economic activity in Kenya,” she emphasised.
“It cuts across the tobacco leaf processing and agro-processing industries in terms of source of employment and income,” she added.
In East Africa, Kenya leads the way with 40,000 contracted farmers.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation says that seven percent of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) comes from tobacco growing, which translates to Sh5.54 billion ($65 million) in exports.
Uganda has some 75,000 farmers under contract while Tanzania has a high of 95,000 farmers growing tobacco.
In both cases, tobacco contributes five percent of the respective countries’ GDP.
“The tobacco farmers have largely been left out of the conversation on the push to migrate them from growing tobacco to other cash crops,” Maina explained.
“There has also not been sufficient research or impact assessment on the proposed alternatives,” she added.
Although FCTC has been pushing for a gradual migration of farmers from tobacco as a cash crop, KAM fears that such a plan will increase the poverty levels among the regions growing the crop.
Such an idea, would adversely impact more than 1.5 million tobacco farmers in other East African Communities and Common Markets for Eastern and Southern Africa countries like Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda and Tanzania.
“We feel that the long term goal should be aimed at restoring and entrenching good agricultural practices like crop rotation and environmental sustainability,” Maina explained.