Friday, June 20, 2008

Uganda: Tobacco Firms Should Be Socially Responsible

I wish to draw attention to the damage tobacco growing has caused to the environment in West Nile, the North, Bunyoro and south-western Uganda.
Several acres of woodland have been felled for flue-cured tobacco production in Maracha, Arua, Koboko, Yumbe, Hoima, and Masindi districts. Forests that would otherwise have filtered carbon emissions and protected arable land from erosion are removed, and temperatures in the tobacco-growing districts are rising.
Firms like British American Tobacco, Leaf Tobacco and Commodity, as well as Continental, in their fallacy, give eucalyptus seedlings to farmers supposedly to replace chopped forests without considering the long maturity period and its impact on the water table.
The tobacco firms do not plough back their high profits yet they hype their cosmetic social responsibility programmes. South African Breweries' "Drive Arrive Campaign" resulted into 10% decline in road accident-related deaths in 1998. What have the tobacco companies done?
Apart from the trivial contribution through the mandatory 2000 Crop Ordinance that Arua enacted, tobacco companies have not done much for the community. Since tobacco growing is laborious and an all-year round activity, many food crops are foregone by tobacco farmers, which has caused food insecurity.
Besides, during peak seasons, students stay home harvesting tobacco, leading to poor academic performance and child labour. Tobacco companies have not trained farmers to invest their little earnings and this leaves them in a cyclical poverty trap.
The negative impact of tobacco growing includes the accumulation of chemical compounds in soils and declining fertility. Tobacco production negatively affects people's health. The effects include nicotine poisoning, pesticide exposure, respiratory effects, musculoskeletal and other injuries.
The Government should assist tobacco growers in West Nile to produce alternative crops that thrive well there without fertilisers or pesticides. The sh48b the Government gets in tax revenues from tobacco exports and products should not shroud the negative effects on tobacco on the population.