Uganda - growing tobacco at the expense of growing subsistence crops..

August 16, 2009 - The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger. FAO's latest estimates put the number of chronically hungry people at 1.02b, up from 915m in 2008, Uganda’s West Nile region isn’t exempt from these global figures save for reasons that force people to go hungry.

Tobacco growing has partly contributed to the famine in West Nile. First and foremost, tobacco growing has led to destruction of forests and fruit trees to the point that the region now faces drought, reduced honey production and general environmental degradation. Because tobacco production also requires dedicating labour, land and other resources at the expense of growing subsistence crops, the potential for hunger and starvation is imminent. My estimation is that over one million people are engaged in tobacco value chain in Uganda. According to BAT, there are 17,500 registered tobacco farmers in West Nile. With such a high number of people engaged in tobacco and neglecting food production, what do we expect?

Above all, in West Nile, tobacco is grown by the poor, sold at throwaway prices determined by tobacco companies, processed by low-paid workers, sold to the poor and used by the poor, the majority of whom starve, stay poor, get sick while generating wealth for multinationals. With most profits going to middle men (tobacco buyers) and multinationals, farmers are left with no option but starvation after failure to raise enough money to buy food whose production is often ignored.

The government should inform of seed inputs and subsidies support shift from tobacco to cultivation of other alternative crops with less requirements than tobacco.

Reference: Tobacco farming killing food production in West Nile, Denis Lee Oguzu - West Nile Rural Development Agency, Daily Monitor, 8/13, 2009.