Semi-permanent houses, tucked between maize and tobacco farms punctuate much of Uriri Sub-County, Migori County.
Occasionally, naked children play by the roadsides as their parents are seen hurdled in groups, perhaps discussing what the future holds for them.
Most of these people are tobacco farmers. But fortunes in the sector have continued to dwindle by the day due to local and global factors.
Migori is the biggest tobacco producer in Kenya, accounting for more than 70 percent of the yields produced in the country, according to Alliance One Tobacco, a leaf-buying organisation. But today, the county has nothing to show for that feat.
The industry was collectively paying out over Sh1.7 billion annually to farmers in the region. Alliance Tobacco Kenya was spending Sh1.2 billion on Migori farmers annually.
But now, poverty is evident in regions where tobacco was once grown, stretching from Kuria East, to Kuria West, Suna West, Uriri and Rongo sub-counties.
The once flourishing cash crop is dying away; imposing makeshift mabati (iron sheets) buying shades which were constructed by the tobacco multinationals have been vandalised while the remaining ones have been taken over by the farmers’ co-operative societies.
While some farmers have already quit tobacco farming altogether, others are still hanging on, hoping for miracles.
Mr Otieno Osoro, 43, from Wang’ Chieng’ village in Uriri remembers the days when tobacco farming posted better returns.
“We used to make good money when the sector was booming but now it is a pale shadow of its former self. The firms have introduced many grading systems which only help the companies to pay us peanuts,” he said.
“I used to plant tobacco on my three acres farm but now [I] am only allocating one acre to tobacco. The remaining space is set for food crops,” Mr Osoro added.
Leaf hawkers who operate in collusion with the tobacco firm officials have also spoilt the business, he claims.
Mr Olima Omondi said the pay today is too little. “We are paid about Sh70 per kilo, from the previous Sh180 per kilo. Companies complain that the quality of leaf from Kenya is no longer attractive in the world market.”
“From my two-acre farm, I can only make Sh40,000 – which cannot feed my family of six children and pay their fees,” Mr Omondi said.
Tobacco matures in six months. Mr Masel Oyugi however says tobacco is their main cash crop despite the frustrations.
“We need more companies here to buy our leaf… the exit of Alliance One from the Kenyan market has left British American Tobacco Kenya Limited (BAT) to enjoy monopoly and to singularly decide what to pay us,” he asserted.
He says the firm inputs they are being given by the BAT Kenya usually eat into their earnings, a claim the company refutes.
“We pay a lot for the fertilisers which are deducted from our delivery dues and leaves the farmer with nothing to take home. And this is why most farmers are scavenging for alternative cash crops,” Mr Oyugi said.
But BAT Kenya has come out to deny claims of frustrating their contracted farmers.
The firm’s manager at Oyani Leaf centre in Migori – Denis Sila – said they were giving their farmers the best treatment.
“We have challenges but we are trying our best. Of course we cannot buy all the tobacco being produced by farmers because we have our own targets as a company,” he said.
Mr Sila explained that he will investigate claims of corruption in the purchase of leaf from growers.
“We do not take bribes in order to buy the cash crop from farmers because we have a binding contract with them…but we will investigate the allegations,” the official added.
Mr John Ochola of the Oyani Tobacco Farmers Sacco is telling farmers not to lose hope.
“We will continue to engage BAT leadership to improve our terms of payment. Although we know leaf prices are dictated by the world market, but there is something that can still be done,” he said.
The Migori County Government has already threatened to kick out tobacco companies that have consistently failed to pay farmers dues on time.
Agriculture Executive Valentine Ogongo said the county administration “will not sit back and watch farmers suffer every year due to delayed payment”.
Mastermind Tobacco allegedly owes local leaf growers over Sh50 million while a tobacco merchant – Eastoback – has alleged unpaid delivery dues amounting to Sh7 million.
“This is the last warning to the two companies. Cooperate with our farmers or go elsewhere,” he told the representatives of the two companies in his office.
Mr Ogongo said only BAT Kenya “was trying to pay their dues on time”.
“The assembly is soon passing Tobacco Control Bill which will give us powers to register afresh, firms allowed to operate in this county,” Mr Ogongo said.
Representatives of the companies said they were making arrangements to offset the dues in the coming weeks.
But this may not save the ailing sector as over 10,000 tobacco growers in the county are already switching to other cash crops which can fetch them quick money. Some have gone into large-scale maize farming while others are planting cane.
“In the absence of a serious leaf merchant who can pay us on time, tobacco is a doomed crop. I have uprooted the leaves on my farm to create space for cane,” Mr Brodrick Kowino from Uriri Sub-County said.
But not all the tobacco leaves produced by farmers in the region is being bought, companies are citing low quality.
Subsequently, thousands of acres of the tobacco grown in Suna West, Kuria West and Kuria East sub-counties risk going to waste unless a new tobacco buyer came to the rescue of the growers.
“The future looks very bleak. We do not know who will buy our tobacco in the farms,” Mr Augustine Mwita, the national chairman of the Kenya Tobacco Growers Association, said.
“We are asking both the county and national Governments to speed up the process to look for us a new investor who is able to buy all our cash crop,” he said.
The farmer’s woes were compounded by the exit of Alliance One Tobacco Company four years ago, and which was the biggest leaf buyer in the county. The firm moved to Uganda and Zimbabwe two years ago, citing poor leaf quality in Kenya.
Mr Owino Likowa, a former Migori MP says tobacco farming is turning into a liability to farmers in the county.
“Poor pay, coupled with health risks one is exposed to while attending to their farms has made the business less lucrative. Farmers must just switch to other cash crops for meaningful benefits,” he noted.
The declining fortunes in the sector have seen massive layoffs by the tobacco firms within the last 10 years.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.