By ELISHA OTIENO
More than 10,000 tobacco farmers in Kenya are staring a bleak future after a leading leaf buyer closed shop.
In effect, the farmers, mainly from Migori County, have also lost Sh1.2 billion Alliance One Tobacco Kenya has been paying them annually.
The company has stopped its operations in Kenya and is instead focussing on Uganda where leaf quality is said to be superior.
Demand for Kenyan tobacco in the world market is said to be declining.
The closure has rendered jobless, over 200 casual and permanent employees.
“We have closed shop and everybody including managers, accountants, leaf technicians and drivers are jobless,” said Mr Patrick Kimani, who was the head of leaf department in the Kenyan division.
“We hope the farmers will find ways of coping up with the new development,” he said.
BIGGEST BUYER OF TOBACCO
The company has been the biggest buyer of tobacco leaves in the region after BAT Kenya and Mastermind Tobacco reduced their activities several years ago.
Unlike the two, Alliance One Tobacco Kenya does not make cigarettes and associated products but exports processed leaf to Europe and other parts of the world.
Yesterday, shocked staff remained speechless as they pondered their next move.
Migori Governor Okoth Obado urged the farmers to embrace other cash crops.
“Let them move to other cash crops, after all tobacco has been a liability due to poor pay and exploitation by the multi-nationals,” he said.
Mr Obado called on Alliance One Tobacco Kenya and other tobacco firms to pay all dues they owe farmers.
“My government is in the process of getting a new investor who will pay farmers better prices,” added Mr Obado who has always accused the firms of exploiting farmers.