NAIROBI, May 31 (Xinhua) -- Kenya marked World No Tobacco Day Wednesday in its western Migori County with senior officials renewing their commitment to assisting smallholder farmers to embrace alternative crops that promise food security and improved revenues.
Susan Nakhumicha Wafula, cabinet secretary of the Ministry of Health, said that the ministry has been stepping up efforts to help farmers shift from tobacco cultivation to food crops, so as to help tame ailments and deaths linked to unregulated smoking.
Wafula said Kenya has rolled out the Tobacco Free Farms project, supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, and the World Food Programme (WFP) to encourage farmers to grow alternative and nutritious crops.
She disclosed that in the last two years, more than 2,000 tobacco farmers in Migori County, bordering Tanzania, have switched to alternative crops including high-iron beans.
According to Wafula, the tobacco farmers who have embraced alternative crops including cereals and legumes have recorded improved health and income.
"The government wholeheartedly supports the Tobacco Free Farms Project due to its prioritization of the health of Kenyans," Wafula said in a statement issued in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.
By introducing iron-rich nyota beans, the ministry aims to address the prevalent iron deficiency among women and children, thereby significantly improving their well-being, Wafula added.
According to the Ministry of Health, more than 6,000 Kenyans die of tobacco-related diseases annually.
The Ministry of Health said 220,000 children and 2,737,000 adults in the country are estimated to consume tobacco daily, while thousands of deaths are attributed to exposure to second-hand smoking.
Kenya was among the first countries in Africa to ratify the legally binding WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in 2004 and has been proactive in the enactment of legislation to regulate smoking.
Wafula noted that Kenya's Tobacco Control Act in particular promotes economically, socially and ecologically viable alternatives to tobacco farming, transforming the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and their dependents.
The 2023 World No Tobacco Day, featuring a theme of "Grow food, not tobacco," sought to rally governments, industry and civil society to support a transition to alternative crops that are rich in diets and ecologically friendly.
Abdourahmane Diallo, the WHO Kenya Country representative, said that providing smallholder tobacco farmers with alternative crops will be key to the realization of UN 2030 goals related to health, poverty eradication, gender parity, food security and ecological resilience.