Uganda - As the harvesting season begins, West Nile farmers have positioned themselves to reap big from a cash crop that has come under severe criticism from political and civil leaders in the district.
Some farmers in Arua and Maracha-Terego districts rejected calls from local leaders to stop growing tobacco because the latter believes the crop is a major cause of poverty, particularly during periods of famine.
The BATU Manager in Arua, Mr Peter Mukisa told Business Power, last week, that the local incomes this season have been boosted by the high quality tobacco farmers are harvesting.
Tobacco is the main cash crop in Arua and Maracha-Terego districts. Mr Mukisa said he was not sure of the tonnes the company expects to get since the season has just started but he said; “we want to ensure that farmers get high quality seeds to earn more income”.
For instance, a high quality grade of tobacco is bought at Shs4,150 while the lowest grade fetches Shs1,500.
Farmers have received training in tobacco quality improvement by using organic methods that help realise high yields and good quality. Business Power has learnt that most high quality tobacco comes from the DR Congo. In West Nile, there is stiff competition between BATU and Continental Companies.
One of the farmers in Maracha, Mr Simon Arumadri 56, said tobacco growing is the only income generating activity in his life. So doing away with it would mean living in poverty.
“It is not easy for me to leave growing tobacco because that is the only way I can feed my family. So I don’t support this campaign against tobacco growing,” Mr Arumadri said.
Mr Arumadri earned about Shs800,000 from his two acres of land and this season he expects to earn about Shs1 million.
Mr Arumadri, who has grown tobacco for over 30 years, argues that the income from tobacco enabled him pay fees for his children. Another farmer in Manibe Sub-county in Arua, Mr David Apiliga said discontinuing tobacco growing would escalate poverty in many households that entirely depend on its income.
“The little money one gets is used to fund various activities in many local households. So I don’t think many would stop and personally I can’t do it,” he said.
According to statistics from BATU, 17,500 registered tobacco farmers in West Nile benefit from the afforestation and biodiversity programmes. BATU has planted trees in areas of River Enyau, Inve, Lokiragodo, and Aroi in Arua District. The company’s afforestation activities cover 1,250 hectares in West Nile.
Mr Mukisa said they educate farmers about the dangers of depleting forests. Normally the company supplies tree seedlings to farmers where one is required to plant 100 tree seedlings yearly to create farmer wood lots. BATU works with about 40,000 farmers annually. To reverse environmental degradation, the company has trained masons to sensitise farmers on using modern tobacco-curing bans which require less wood fuel.
As a result of the high level of plantation, many youth are involved in cigarette smuggling taking advantage of the porous south- Sudan and north-eastern DRC borders.
The Director for West Nile Action against Global Warming (Wenwa-Glow) in Arua, Mr Angel Atria, said tobacco farming is labour intensive and draws people away from food production. He said this has led to food insecurity and malnutrition.
“Tobacco exacerbates poverty and undermines sustainable development especially because it leads to land degradation and deforestation. So our afforestation campaign aims to reduce the impact of human activities on wood consumption and global warming,” Mr Atria said.
He also argues that tobacco growing has led to indiscriminate cutting of trees for curing. He said this has negatively impacted on the environment and has changed the weather and rainfall patterns.
The current smokers in Arua District are estimated to be 300,000 out of Arua’s total population 850,000 people. Mr Atria said tobacco harms the environment at every stage of its value chain from cultivation, production to consumption.
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