Farmers blame illegal tobacco from Tanzania for their woes

Hundreds of tobacco farmers took to the streets of Kehancha town in Kuria West Sub-County, Friday, protesting against Mastermind Tobacco Company Limited for failing to pay their arrears since the year 2014.

The farmers claimed the company is now buying cheap tobacco from Tanzania in cash while the arrears of local farmers remain unpaid.

They claimed existence of a link which buy illegal tobacco from Tanzania and delivered to Meru County where it is processed.

The irate farmers drawn from Kuria West, Kuria East and other parts of Migori County claimed the tobacco company owes them to a tune of Sh94 million.

Chacha Mwita Rantai, Tobacco Farmers Association Chairman, from Taranganya village said that the farmers have suffered a great deal as most of them failed to pay their debts.

Some of us have failed to pay loans which we borrowed to invest in tobacco farming and now they have failed to pay us. What shall we do? he posed.

Samson Sorai, another farmer from Masangora village, told the press that their efforts to push the company pay their money have failed.

Our efforts to push the company management for our dues have been in vain as the managers have been taking us in circles, he said.

Immaculate Robi, another farmer from Kegonga in Kuria East said she was forced to remove her children from private to public school since Mastermind tobacco company failed to pay them.

They accused the company of ignoring the plight and suffering of the farmers and also for not putting things in order for the farmers to be paid their money.

Efforts by the media to seek audience with company area managers from their Kehancha station offices hit a snag as they were out of their offices.

The doors to the offices of the Manager, Leaf Operations Manager and other staff manning the area were locked and there was nobody to address the press over the farmers’ allegations.

The farmers vowed to stay put and voice their concern until all their dues are paid and some of them have pending loans from various banks and other financial institutions.

However, when press team visited Mastermind Tobacco,Nyabohanse Station, situation was different.

Area Leaf Manager, Edward Kareithi, noted that unpaid farmers were only few but revealed of company’s plan to clear their dues soon.

The Manager went ahead to also refute claims that the company was buying tobacco from the neighbouring country Tanzania at a cheaper price as alleged by the farmers as being baseless.

He spelled out laws governing buying and selling of tobacco which the company has strictly abide to.

The farmers alleged that some of their tobacco is taken to as far as Meru for scaling and measurement, saying that it frustrates them even more, as they cannot know where to start from when following up their claims.

They now have called on President Uhuru Kenyatta and the county leadership to intervene and help them find a lasting solution on their payment and other dues.

Speaking on phone Saturday,Kuria East Member of Parliament,Marwa Kitayama said that he will not allow tobacco companies to enrich themselves at expense of the local farmers.

He called the on the Mastermind Tobacco Company to pay aggrieved farmers their arrears.

Source: Kenya News Agency