Migori tobacco farmers' fury as buyers exit

Okoth Obado
Tobacco farmers in the county are a frustrated lot after some of their key buyers withdrew from the market.

Tobacco and sugarcane are the major cash-crops in the region and a main source of income for most families.

Some of the cigarette companies that had been buying the crop have left and prices for farmers remain uncompetitive.

Edna Mohabe has had to uproot the crop from her two-acre farm and resort to farming maize for subsistence.

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“For more than a year, I have held on to the hope that things might get better. I thought another company might venture in or the existing might one upgrade their operations and buy our crop even at a lower rate,” she said.

She echoed the sentiments of over 15,000 tobacco farmers in the region struggling to make ends meet over what could be termed as the collapse of the tobacco sector.

The companies currently operating in the region are British American Tobacco (BAT) and MasterMind, which though still operating, is struggling as farmers contracted under the firm cited poor and delayed payments.

Alliance One Tobacco Company ceased its operations and according to the farmers, it did so without a warning. The company was the biggest ‘green gold’ buyer in the county.

“We were given modest send-off packages but they should have prepared us psychologically for their exit,” said Omondi Oduor, a former employee.

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Farmers felt the gap created by the firm’s withdrawal because the it used to pay school fees for children of contracted farmers to the tune of Sh17 million annually, where over 400 students from Nyanza and Rift Valley benefited.

Governor Okoth Obado said he had been to United Arab Emirates, Turkey and China in a bid to find serious players in the tobacco industry who can set up a factory in Migori to benefit the farmers.

“It is purely coincidence that Alliance One left Migori, they did so of their own will and I must add after I became the governor, political opponents have been saying I chased the firm away in order to favour BAT, which is not true,” said Obado.

Agriculture Executive Iscah Oluoch told the farmers that even as the county continues to find ways of helping them, they need to think of embracing other cash crops and means of economic empowerment.

Over 10,000 tobacco growers are desperate as their farms are still under the crop.

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TobaccoAlliance One TobaccoMigori