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Costs, contracts and the narrative of prosperity: an economic analysis of smallholder tobacco farming livelihoods in Kenya
  1. Peter Magati1,
  2. Raphael Lencucha2,
  3. Qing Li3,
  4. Jeffrey Drope3,
  5. Ronald Labonte4,
  6. Adriana Boakyewaa Appau3,
  7. Donald Makoka5,
  8. Fastone Goma6,
  9. Richard Zulu6
  1. 1 School of Economics, University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya
  2. 2 Faculty of Medicine, School of Physical and Occupational Therapy, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  3. 3 Economics and Health Policy Research, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
  4. 4 Institute of Population Health, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  5. 5 Centre for Agricultural Research and Development, Lilongwe, Malawi
  6. 6 School of Medicine, University of Zambia, Lusaka, Zambia
  1. Correspondence to Peter Magati, School of Economics, University of Nairobi, Nairobi 30197, Kenya; ptrmagati{at}


Background The tobacco industry has used the alleged negative impacts on economic livelihoods for tobacco farmers as a narrative to oppose tobacco control measures in low/middle-income countries. However, rigorous empirical evidence to support or refute this claim remains scarce. Accordingly, we assess how much money households earn from selling tobacco, and the costs they incur to produce the crop, including labour inputs. We also evaluate farmers’ decision to operate under contract directly with tobacco manufacturers and tobacco leaf-buying companies or to operate as independent farmers.

Methods A stratified random sampling method was used to implement a nationally representative household-level economic survey of 585 farmers across the three main tobacco growing regions in Kenya. The survey was augmented with focus group discussions in all three regions to refine and enrich the context of the findings.

Results Both contract and independent farmers experience small profit margins per acre, with contract farmers operating at a loss. Even when family labour is excluded from the calculation, income levels remain low, particularly considering the typically large households. Generally, tobacco farmers enter into contracts with tobacco companies because they have a ‘guaranteed’ buyer for their tobacco leaf and receive the necessary agricultural inputs (fertiliser, seeds, herbicides and so on) without paying cash up-front.

Conclusions Tobacco farming households enter into contract with tobacco companies to realise perceived economic benefits. The narrative that tobacco farming is a lucrative economic undertaking for smallholder farmers, however, is inaccurate in the context of Kenya.

  • eonomics
  • low/middle income country
  • tobacco industry

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  • Contributors PM, DM, JD, FG, RZ, RLe and RLa contributed to the study design. DM drafted the survey tool. PM, JD, FG, RZ, DM, RLe and RLa contributed to subsequent refinement of the survey tool. PM collected the survey data. PM, RLe and DM contributed to the focus group design. PM collected focus group data. QL, PM and JD completed the statistical analysis. PM, RLe, RLa and JD wrote the first draft of the manuscript. All team members contributed to the writing of the manuscript. JD led the revision. PM, JD and RLa led the resubmission. PM submitted the manuscript on behalf of the team.

  • Funding This research was supported by the Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health (OD) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) under Award Number R01TW010898; and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Fogarty International Center and NCI under Award Number R01DA035158.

  • Competing interests None declarerd.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Ethics approval Institutional review board of Morehouse School of Medicine.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.