Listed tobacco company BAT has defended its leaf-buying structure that has been criticised by tobacco growers in western Kenya, adding that it has no plans of moving out of the country.
The firm said it would continue contracting Kenyan farmers to grow the crop on need basis to avoid purchasing it directly from the market against industry guidelines.
BAT Head of Regulatory Affairs Connie Anyika said the cigarette maker had no plans to move from Kenya, but would not alter its tobacco buying structure to accommodate non-contracted farmers.
“While we sympathise with those independent farmers who demand that their tobacco produce should be purchased by British American Tobacco Kenya, the reality is that the 1994 Rules prohibit anyone from purchasing tobacco from a farmer with whom he has no existing sponsorship agreement. We, therefore, can only purchase tobacco that we have contracted to grow,” said Ms Anyika.
The firm was recently brought into controversy, with farmers from Bungoma County accusing it of rejecting tobacco from the region. The dispute reportedly saw local leaders threaten to mobilise growers to storm BAT’s leaf-buying centre at Malakisi.
BAT, which has contracted 5,537 farmers countrywide, said it would continue encouraging good growing practices, including the dropping of three lower leaves at topping.
“The impact of this is that the leaves become heavier, acquire the preferred orange colour on curing and have better chemistries in terms of nicotine and sugars. All these benefits would compound to better yields and subsequently better prices for the farmer,” said Ms Anyika.
The model, according to the British cigarette maker, has triggered an improvement in yields among BAT Kenya-contracted farmers.
The firm’s purchasing model takes tobacco leaves from contracted farmers and pays them three days after delivery.