By John Odyek
MPs have asked tobacco companies to support initiatives that will ensure that tobacco farmers who receive cash payments and do not use misuse them for pleasures.
Revelations made by MPs from tobacco growing areas depicted how excited tobacco farmers upon receiving cash bought alcohol and used it to wash legs and hoes.
Some farmers reportedly stayed away from their wives for weeks drinking and merrymaking only to return when they were broke.
The revelations were made during a meeting held at Sheraton Kampala Hotel to discuss the Tobacco Control Bill 2014. The meeting took an emotional twist when MPs queried why tobacco farmers looked poor while tobacco companies looked rich.
Statistics show that tobacco farmers earned higher household incomes compared to other farmers. The Uganda National Household Income Survey 2012/13 showed that average monthly household incomes for rural areas stood at sh325,000. Tobacco farmers in the rural areas earned over sh426,624 per month.
David Muhumuza (Mwenge North) said: “People who have planted tobacco live in grass thatched houses. Are our farmers getting anything?”
Wadri Kasiano (Terego County) said the problem of how farmers, fishermen, cotton farmers or tobacco farmers spent their money was about mindset.
“We need to sensitise farmers not to be extravagant. A farmer washes his feet with beer and says it is his sweat. They drink the money until it is finished. Poverty is a mindset,” Kasiano explained.
Kasirivu Atwooki (Bugangaizi West) asked tobacco companies to send money to the accounts of all farmers.
“A big number of farmers can be helped to buy land, build houses, buy household property and have a better life out of the crop. Extension workers should teach farmers to grow food crops as well,” Atwooki said.
Jonathan D’Souza, managing director British American Tobacco Uganda said they have helped over 20,000 tobacco farmers open bank accounts in Post Bank at a cost of sh1.2b.
There are 60,000 tobacco farmers in over 25 districts and tobacco is one of the leading foreign exchange earners for Uganda.
D’Souza said the company supports food security for farmers through the issuance of free hybrid maize seed in its annual “Food after Tobacco” program and engages in afforestation programs to ensure that tobacco growing and curing activities have a minimal impact on the environment
He supported the bill but sounded caution that it could threaten farming and investment in tobacco in the country. He said the bill produces an unintended effect of banning tobacco farming instead of regulating the industry and consumption.
“We agree that the manufacture, distribution and sale of tobacco products should be regulated. We support effective, evidence-based regulation that measurably reduces the public health impact of tobacco products while respecting the informed choices and rights of adults who choose to smoke and the legal rights of a legal industry,” D’Souza said.
He said the bill proposes a fine of sh200,000 or imprisonment for a person found to be smoking in a public place. He said the fine was too high as compared to similar fines in other countries.