6 min read
17 Jul

West Nile was one of the 15 regions in Uganda with fertile lands good for practicing agriculture to feed the country and her neighbors, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, but due to the deviation from the high yielding consumable crops to tobacco growing and its products and the devastating impacts associated with them on the environment, humans, and biodiversity.

Although the government of Uganda has tried to condemn the growing, manufacturing, and production of Tobacco and the entire dealing in tobacco and its products across the country due to the socioeconomic effects associated with it, through the various laws, a number of farmers across the region have continued to grow and smoke tobacco, purportedly due to the lack of an alternative cash crop to substitute tobacco.

Mr. Ezama James Nadua, a long-term tobacco farmer and now the Chairperson of the Works Committee, Terego District Local Government, says farmers are forced to grow tobacco due to no alternative cash crop in the region.

One of the tobacco farmers checking his cured tobacco leaves in the ban

“We don’t have any other cash crop that can bring a lot of money for the people of Terego, and now because of this, everybody is trying to gamble around which crop can be grown to get money and people are still growing tobacco. If you move to all the sub-counties of Terego district, people are still growing tobacco on large scale and moreover, this tobacco has spoiled our environment; trees are already disappearing because of tobacco,” Ezama revealed

Ezama James Nadua a farmer & the Chairperson of the Works Committee Terego Speaking

Tobacco growing has proved to be a tedious venture in West Nile, cost ineffective, and leaves the population in extreme poverty, retarding the region’s growth while the products of tobacco increase respiratory illness and deaths in the region.

Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), the authority mandated by law as the custodian of records in Uganda, in their 2022 Multidimensional Poverty Index ranked West Nile region third (3) poorest with 59% out of the Fifteen (15) across the country.

Mr. Geoffrey Okiswa, the Resident District Commissioner of RDC Arua district, reveals that farmers have failed to move out of tobacco production, yet the returns are too low. He notes that the government, through various interventions, is trying to change the mindset of the people, including through the Parish Development Module, PDM, Emyooga, and Operation Wealth Creation, among others, for them to move away from traditional cash crops to modern subsistence crops, which could be for both food and cash.

“If you went into the calculations of returns, you might find that the farmers are working on more losses than gains, so it's not cost effective for our farmers to produce tobacco for that particular factory”. Okiswa noted.

Arua District RDC Geoffrey Okiswa Speaks on the returns from tobacco.mp3

Environmental Havok

The World Health Organization estimates that about 600 million trees are cut down annually to produce 6 trillion cigarettes, which directly contribute to increased carbon emissions influencing climate change.

Furthermore, Global Forest Watch documented that Uganda has lost the majority of its vegetation cover to high demand for wood logs, charcoal, and timber, noting that In 2010, Uganda had 6.93 Mha of tree cover, extending over 29% of its land area. In 2022, it lost 64.1 kha of tree cover, equivalent to 33.3 MT of CO2 emissions.

The use of inorganic chemicals, deforestation, and loss of biodiversity are the pricking challenges raising the eyebrows of leaders in the region.

Mr. John Engamvile Terego, district environment officer, reveals that the devastating impacts of Tobacco growing have trickled down to extreme poverty, changing weather patterns, and requiring farmers to tap into other crops that do not need inorganic chemicals to grow.

“In most cases, when land has been used for growing tobacco, the impact of those fertilizers persists in the soil for years, and these fertilizers are toxic to living organisms in the soil, which eventually leads to a reduction in the productivity of the soil.” Engamvile further reveals that in the processes of tobacco production, a lot of wood logs are needed, especially in the drying of the leaves of tobacco, termed the curing stage, which attracts deforestation “

Since tobacco is grown year in and year out, these farmers have no time to plant and grow trees; as a result, they go back to cutting down these natural trees. 

A farmer may need 20 cubic meters of wood log to cure tobacco leaves in one phase per farmer, and once this is calculated by the number of farmers, it is very tragic to our environment.” The Environment officer stretched.

Engamvile John Terego, district environment officer, Speaking.mp3

Health Threat 

The World Health Organization documented in 2022 that the harmful impact of the tobacco industry on the environment and health is vast. This is because 15% of boys and 13% of girls aged 13–15 start smoking annually. It is also estimated that tobacco kills 204 Ugandans weekly, which is more than HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and accidents.

Despite this high mortality rate, more than 1,020,500 men and 1 in 10 people in Uganda smoke cigarettes daily, making it an ongoing and dire public health threat.

Uganda Demographic Health Survey 2011 reports that smoking prevalence is high in the West Nile region (Koboko, Arua, Yumbe, Terego, and Maracha) at 33.7 percent. Implying that the expenditure on tobacco products significantly impacts the regions that grow them. It further indicates that a cigarette, when lit, contains over 7,000 chemical compounds, of which at least 250 are harmful and 70 are known to cause cancer.

During the last financial year, which ended June 31st, 2023, Arua City documented over 700 people with Tuberculosis who had been enrolled on drugs.

Mr. Amandu Alfred, the Principal Environmental Health Officer of Arua City, urges members of communities to desist from coming into contact with tobacco and its products since their effects can lead to death in the long run.

“Smoking can lead to heart diseases, lung diseases, stroke, obstructive pulmonary diseases, chronic bronchitis, and certain eye conditions arising from smoking cigarettes. Currently,  we have 700 people who have been known to have contracted TB in Arua City.” Amandu stated 

Legal loopholes

The Tobacco Control Act 2015, ascended to by the President on September 19, 2015, aims at protecting the environment from the effects of tobacco production and consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke to promote the health of persons and reduce tobacco-related illnesses and deaths, as well as protecting persons from the socio-economic effects of tobacco production and consumption, which would be implemented by the police and other agencies, including the local governments.

This was meant to discourage dealings in tobacco and its products to rescue the population from the long-term effects associated with them, but it has faced hiccups in its implementation. Hence, out-growers continue to grow it while public smoking is still witnessed across the country.

Mr. Obitre Stephen, Maracha district Chairman and Arua district water engineer, says as local governments, their hands are tied from enforcing some of the laws due to intimidation by higher Authorities. 

Without mentioning the officers threatening local government authorities in enforcing the Anti-Tobacco law, Obitre revealed that the awarding of operational permits and certification of companies to do transactions on tobacco in the country is done at the ministerial levels, something fueling the growth of tobacco in Uganda.

“When communities near the tobacco factory complained of poor waste discharge and contamination of the air, we went on site and did assessments and resolved to close the factory. To my dismay, I started receiving strange calls threatening us the technocrats of our decisions, telling us to open the factory immediately. Such things reduce the morale and zeal of the implementors to do work, yet the communities are suffering.” Obitre explained

Leaders responded.

West Nile Cooperative Union, a farmer organization that has 23 affiliated cooperative societies from the 13 local governments in the region, is striving for alternatives to tobacco, which has been the traditional cash crop of the region.

Mr. Moses Etukibo, the manager of the West Nile Cooperative Union, says they are working hard towards ensuring farmers change slowly to other highly valuable crops that do well in the region.

“We are coming up with alternative livelihoods to tobacco, this encompasses different enterprises, for example, oil seeds, poultry, which will be boasted by the government’s Parish Development Module, and apiaries that we are going to impress in our production system.” Etukibo revealed

Etukibo Moses, Manager, West Nile Cooperative Union.mp3

Mr. Godfrey Apangu, Arua City Health Inspector, explains that public smoking is widespread in Arua City, which is West Nile’s Regional city and hosts over 361,000 people as of 2020 projections. All the resting joints in the town constitute the biggest open smoking areas. He says they are not going to tolerate any person who is seen openly smoking in public.

“The Tobacco Control Act 2015 has stipulated and talked about the prohibition of tobacco related products in public places; if you’re to smoke, the law requires the next person to be 50 meters away. It means we are not supposed to have any tobacco-related products at public gatherings. I want to communicate to anybody who has these products to remove them before we come, beginning with inspection, and those who will be found with these products will be prosecuted.” Apangu warned.

Apangu Arua city Health Inspector.mp3

Mr. Milton Nyeko, The National Forestry Range Manager for the West Nile Region, encourages communities to replace the trees that have been cut down by farmers to cure tobacco. According to Nyeko, the government, through other partners, is providing free seedlings for those interested in planting trees to replenish the lost vegetation cover.

“Government of Uganda is also providing planting materials through the National community Tree planting program and every year we produce about 500,000 seedlings under government support and communities are always encouraged to access these seedlings either at individual level, at the institutional level, or at community level in groups,” Nyeko explained

Milton Nyeko, Range Manager, National Forestry Authority, West Nile Region.mp3

Preliminary interactions with some of the farmers indicate that a farmer needs at least 4 million shillings to successfully produce tobacco from Land for nursery bed preparations to the marketing stage for an acre of land, and the returns vary between 1 million and 1.5 million when it does well, indicating a total loss on the investment for the farmers. This is attributed to the expenses of the labor force, loan acquisitions of inorganic fertilizers and acaricides, wood logs, as well as transportation.

BY: Dramadri Federick, Dailywestnile.info 
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