Home Cash Crops Tobacco Tobacco Farming In Kenya: A Comprehensive Guide For Farmers

Tobacco Farming In Kenya: A Comprehensive Guide For Farmers


Tobacco farming in Kenya is a significant agricultural activity, providing employment to thousands of people and contributing significantly to the economy. The country has a favorable climate and soil conditions that are suitable for growing tobacco. The tobacco industry in Kenya has a long history, dating back to the colonial era when the British introduced tobacco farming to the country.

Today, tobacco is grown in various parts of Kenya, including the Rift Valley, Western, and Eastern regions. The crop is grown by smallholder farmers who sell their produce to tobacco companies or middlemen. The tobacco farming process involves several stages, including land preparation, planting, weeding, harvesting, and curing. Farmers use traditional methods to grow tobacco, including hand cultivation and the use of organic fertilizers.

Despite the economic benefits of tobacco farming, the industry has faced criticism from health experts who argue that tobacco use is harmful to human health. The Kenyan government has implemented various measures to control tobacco use, including the Tobacco Control Act, which regulates the production, sale, and use of tobacco products. Nevertheless, tobacco farming remains a significant source of income for many households in Kenya.

History of Tobacco Farming in Kenya

Tobacco farming in Kenya dates back to the early 1900s, during the colonial era. The British colonial government introduced tobacco farming to Kenya as a cash crop to boost the country’s economy. The first tobacco farms were established in the central highlands of Kenya, specifically in the areas around Limuru and Thika.

Initially, tobacco farming was dominated by European settlers who had the necessary resources and expertise to cultivate the crop. However, after Kenya gained independence in 1963, the government embarked on a program to promote local participation in the tobacco industry.

As a result, small-scale farmers were encouraged to take up tobacco farming, and the number of tobacco-growing regions in Kenya increased. Today, tobacco farming is widespread in various parts of the country, including the central highlands, western Kenya, and the Rift Valley.

The tobacco industry in Kenya has faced various challenges over the years, including declining demand for tobacco products, increased regulation, and health concerns associated with tobacco use. However, the industry remains an important source of income for many small-scale farmers in Kenya.

Current State of Tobacco Farming in Kenya

Tobacco farming is one of the most important cash crops in Kenya, with a significant contribution to the agricultural sector. The crop is grown mainly in the western part of the country, particularly in Migori, Homa Bay, and Siaya counties. Tobacco farming has been a source of livelihood for many smallholder farmers in the region.

However, the industry has been facing several challenges in recent years, including declining yields, low prices, and changing regulations. The Kenyan government has been implementing policies aimed at reducing tobacco consumption, which has affected the demand for the crop.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, the area under tobacco cultivation has been declining over the years. In 2019, the total area under tobacco cultivation was 11,800 hectares, a decrease from 12,000 hectares in 2018. This trend is expected to continue as the government intensifies its anti-smoking campaign.

Another challenge facing the tobacco farming industry in Kenya is the use of child labor. The industry has been accused of using child labor in tobacco farms, which has led to calls for action to address the issue. The government has been working with stakeholders to address the issue and ensure that children are not exploited in tobacco farming.

Despite the challenges, tobacco farming remains an important source of income for many smallholder farmers in Kenya. The government and stakeholders in the industry need to work together to address the challenges facing the industry and ensure that it remains sustainable and profitable for farmers.

Challenges Facing Tobacco Farmers in Kenya

Tobacco farming is a significant source of income for many farmers in Kenya. However, there are several challenges that these farmers face, which hinder their productivity and profitability. Below are some of the challenges that tobacco farmers in Kenya encounter:

  • High production costs: Tobacco farming requires a lot of resources, including land, labor, and inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. These resources are expensive, and many small-scale farmers cannot afford them.
  • Unpredictable weather conditions: Tobacco farming is highly dependent on weather conditions. Unfavorable weather conditions such as drought or excessive rainfall can significantly reduce crop yields, leading to financial losses for farmers.
  • Fluctuating market prices: Tobacco prices are highly volatile and subject to fluctuations in the global market. This makes it difficult for farmers to plan and budget for their crops’ sale, leading to uncertainty and financial instability.
  • Lack of access to credit: Many tobacco farmers in Kenya lack access to credit facilities, making it difficult for them to invest in their farms and improve their productivity.
  • Health risks: Tobacco farming is associated with several health risks, including exposure to harmful chemicals such as pesticides and nicotine. The lack of protective gear and safety measures puts farmers at risk of developing respiratory problems and other health issues.

These challenges facing tobacco farmers in Kenya require urgent attention and solutions to ensure that farmers can continue to produce tobacco sustainably and profitably.

Impact of Tobacco Farming on Kenya’s Economy and Health

Tobacco farming has been a significant contributor to Kenya’s economy for many years. The industry provides employment opportunities for thousands of people, both directly and indirectly. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, tobacco exports generated over KES 30 billion in revenue in 2022, making it one of the country’s top agricultural exports.

However, the economic benefits of tobacco farming come at a significant cost to public health. Tobacco use is responsible for over 10% of deaths in Kenya, and the country is currently experiencing a rise in smoking prevalence. The health consequences of tobacco use are severe and include a higher risk of cancer, heart disease, and respiratory illnesses.

In addition to the health risks, tobacco farming can also have negative environmental impacts. The use of pesticides and fertilizers in tobacco farming can lead to soil degradation and water pollution. Furthermore, the production of tobacco requires a significant amount of water, which can strain water resources in areas where water is already scarce.

Dry Tobacco leaves
Dry Tobacco leaves

Despite the negative impacts, the tobacco industry in Kenya remains a significant contributor to the country’s economy. The government has implemented measures to regulate the industry and reduce the harm caused by tobacco use, including increasing taxes on tobacco products, banning smoking in public places, and implementing health warnings on cigarette packaging.

Overall, tobacco farming in Kenya has a complex impact on both the economy and public health. While the industry provides employment opportunities and generates revenue for the country, it also poses significant risks to public health and the environment. It is essential for the government and industry to work together to find a balance between economic benefits and public health concerns.

Alternative Crops for Kenyan Farmers

While tobacco farming has been a major source of income for Kenyan farmers, there are alternative crops that can be grown to diversify their income streams. These alternative crops can also help to reduce the negative impact of tobacco farming on the environment and the health of farmers.

One alternative crop that has gained popularity in recent years is avocado. Avocado farming is a lucrative business in Kenya, with the country being one of the largest exporters of avocados in the world. The demand for avocados continues to rise, especially in the European market, making it a viable option for farmers looking to diversify their income. Additionally, avocado farming is less labor-intensive compared to tobacco farming, and it requires less water.

Another alternative crop that Kenyan farmers can consider is macadamia nuts. Like avocados, macadamia nuts are in high demand in the international market, particularly in the United States and Europe. The nuts are used in the food industry, cosmetics, and even in the production of biofuels. Macadamia farming is also less labor-intensive compared to tobacco farming, and it requires less water.

Finally, farmers can also consider growing tea as an alternative crop. Tea is one of Kenya’s top exports, and the country is known for producing high-quality tea. Tea farming is less harmful to the environment compared to tobacco farming, and it can be grown in areas with high altitudes and rainfall. Tea farming also provides a stable source of income for farmers since tea prices are relatively stable compared to other crops.

Crop Advantages Disadvantages
Avocado High demand, less labor-intensive, requires less water Requires specific climatic conditions, long maturation period
Macadamia nuts High demand, less labor-intensive, requires less water Requires specific climatic conditions, long maturation period
Tea Stable prices, less harmful to the environment Requires specific climatic conditions, susceptible to pests and diseases


Kenya’s tobacco farming industry is a vital component of the country’s economy, providing employment opportunities and generating revenue for the government. Despite the challenges faced by farmers, including unpredictable weather patterns and fluctuating market prices, tobacco remains an important cash crop for many small-scale farmers.

However, the negative health impacts of tobacco use cannot be ignored. As the world becomes increasingly aware of the dangers of smoking, it is important for Kenya to consider diversifying its agricultural sector and exploring alternative crops that are both profitable and sustainable.

Efforts to promote tobacco control and discourage smoking should not be viewed as a threat to farmers, but rather as an opportunity to invest in the long-term health and prosperity of the country. By supporting farmers in transitioning to alternative crops and promoting sustainable agriculture practices, Kenya can ensure a brighter future for its citizens and the environment.

Sources: Magati, Peter, et al. “Costs, contracts and the narrative of prosperity: an economic analysis of smallholder tobacco farming livelihoods in Kenya.” Tobacco control 28.3 (2019): 268-273. Link: https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/28/3/268.abstract

Lencucha, Raphael, et al. “Tobacco farming: overcoming an understated impediment to comprehensive tobacco control.” Tobacco Control 31.2 (2022): 308-312. Link: https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/31/2/308.abstract

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John Kamau is a highly experienced agriculture expert based in Kenya. He holds a degree in Agriculture from the University of Nairobi and has over 15 years of experience in the field. Throughout his career, John has been committed to promoting sustainable agriculture practices in Kenya. He has worked with small-scale farmers in rural communities to improve their crop yields, implement irrigation systems, and adopt environmentally friendly farming practices. John is also an expert in the use of technology in agriculture. He has worked with organizations to develop mobile applications that help farmers access information about weather patterns, market prices, and best practices for crop management. In addition to his work in Kenya, John has also been involved in agricultural projects in other African countries, including Tanzania and Uganda. He has served as a consultant for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and has been recognized for his work with numerous awards.


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