How BAT Exploits Tobacco Farmers & Why They Have Abandoned the Crop 

BAT headquarters on Likoni road in Nairobi

In Busia County’s Malakisi region, farmers have completely abandoned tobacco farming for other crops forcing BAT and MTK who were constantly fighting over the raw material to close down their operations

By The Weekly Vision

Tobacco farmers in Meru, Migori and Bungoma counties have threatened to abandon the cultivation of the crop over what they termed as ‘’massive frustrations and exploitation subjected to them by BAT”.

Through their representatives who did not want to be named, the farmers also cited the negative health implication associated with the crop as one of the reasons they intend to drop the growing of tobacco on their farms.

On the other hand, BAT has been laughing all the way to the bank. The company’s gross revenue was reduced by a 2% per cent margin to Ksh. 38.8 billion; this was driven by a 24% decline in domestic sales reflecting the adverse economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic at the end of the last financial year. The impact of excise-led price increases on consumer affordability and illicit trade incidents in the country.

Some of the popular brands produced and sold by BAT on the local market include Sportsman, Sweet Menthol (SM), Safari, Embassy Light and Kings, Rooster, Crescent, and now Rothmans and Dunhill

BAT is one of the ‘Big Tobacco’ a name used to refer to the largest tobacco companies in the world. The six largest tobacco companies are China National Tobacco Company (a Chinese state monopoly with almost no exports), British American Tobacco (BAT), Philip Morris International, Imperial Brands, Altria Group, and Japan Tobacco International.

Some of the tobacco farmers in Migori County have already abandoned the crop for alternatives like onions

These are collectively referred to as Big Tobacco. These companies have substantial power economically, with revenues matching some small countries. The revenue decline was mitigated by higher export sales, and net revenue increased by 5% to Ksh. 25.3 billion, driven by higher export revenues and lower Excise Duty and Value Added Tax (VAT), which reflects the impact of the decline in domestic sales volumes and the reduction in the VAT rate in April 2020 as part of the Government’s COVID-19 relief measures. Profit after tax increased by Ksh 1.6 billion to Ksh 5.5 billion reflecting an increase in net revenue, reduction in costs and the reduction in Corporation Tax rate in April 2020 – yet virtually none of these billions went to tobacco farmers or to the consumers who are killing themselves daily for BAT to earn huge profits.

Some of the popular brands produced and sold by BAT on the local market include Sportsman, Sweet Menthol (SM), Safari, Embassy Light and Kings, Rooster, Crescent, and now Rothmans and Dunhill. Emerging details show that BAT’s operations within the East African Community (EAC) member states are massive while the tobacco farmer who grows the raw material for the corporation remains permanently enslaved in perpetual poverty.

According to records from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), at one time Kenya had more than 20,000 tobacco farmers but this has over the years drastically dropped to about 5,000 farmers who are concentrated mostly in Meru, Migori and Bungoma Counties.

The Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) Lake Region Counties Economic Bloc spokesman Mr Herman Kasili said, “Many counties in this region like Busia, Siaya, Kakamega and Uasin Gishu used to grow the crop but have since abandoned it because of massive frustrations and exploitation subjected to them by BAT and the negative health implication associated with growing and handling the crop.”

Mr Kasili continued: “These farmers are the ones who provide BAT with raw material for them to produce cigarettes after extreme and demanding labour on the farms, from land preparation, planting, crop husbandry, harvesting and the most difficult curing processes then you pay them peanuts? Spits in their faces? What do you expect, a rebellion of course.”

These happened in Busia County’s Malakisi where farmers completely abandoned farming the un-paying crop for other crops forcing tobacco giants like BAT and MTK who were constantly fighting over the raw material to close down their operations in the region, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. BAT and MTK were forced to run to the neighbouring countries of Uganda and Tanzania to source the raw material.

Emerging facts are that BAT is continuing with the same highly exploitative practices to the tobacco farmers in these two countries by taking advantage of their country’s existing lax legislation and weak judicial mechanisms.  

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