Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Ridding tobacco farming of child labour
Boyd Ndhlovu, 50, grew up believing that nothing short of daily exercise could help the son and daughter of a tobacco farmer understand the basics of tobacco farming.
No wonder, then, that the Tobacco Association of Malawi executive member’s father started teaching him the tobacco farming skills at a tender age. Once satisfied that the son could take over the farming business and scale new heights, Ndhlovu’s father left the responsibility of looking after Kampala Estate to him in 1989.
Today, Boyd is sad that his father— who died last year— can no longer watch the son supervise works or till the land with the Ferguson tractor that bears testimony that, despite starting off with one hectare of small scale flue-cured and Barley tobacco, respectively, the son has perfected the farming business.
At the same time, he is happy that the knowledge acquired from his father— who used to be one of the well-known commercial maize farmers during the one party regime— has been put to good use. His father was a hard-working farmer who, using 20 hectares of land, used to cultivate tobacco, onions, bananas and owned fish ponds.
However, while the sight of a father inspecting a tobacco farm with his son in tow used to be common then [when Ndhlovu the senior taught Boyd the basics], Ndhlovu can no longer walk around the farm with his beloved son, or give him hands on experience.
While business consultants such as Economics Association of Malawi president, Henry Kachaje, have emphasised the need to cultivate in young ones business skills so that the knowledge may not be lost when the parents die, this cannot be practiced everywhere— especially in tobacco estates.
And Ndhlovu knows that pretty well.
“In Integrated Tobacco Farming (IPS), otherwise known as contract farming, farmers are not allowed to engage children in the work as this would be interpreted as child labour and child labour is a vice because it denies children their right to go to school,” Ndhlovu says.
Ndhlovu says, ever since he joined Alliance One Tobacco Company as his sponsoring merchant in 2001, he is not allowed to employ children or allow them to work on his farms.
He says children are not even allowed to get closer to the tobacco leaf selection area, observing that, apart from child labour being a setback to development, tobacco has some harmful substances that may negatively affect children’s health.
So, Ndhlovu rests assured of the market for his tobacco— safe in the knowledge that no buyer may fault him for employing children. He says one of the lessons he has been able to quickly learn through IPS is that children have no business in the tobacco industry.
If anything, his only worry is that the Malawi Kwacha behaves “abnormally’ in the period leading to the opening of the Auction Floors.
“The Malawi Kwacha gains strength against foreign currencies and this acts as a disservice to us because we buy inputs at expensive prices because the Malawi Kwacha is at its lowest ebb— only to sell our tobacco at a relatively cheap price when the Malawi Kwacha gains strength,” Ndhlovu laments.
Another tobacco farmer, Owen Musongole from Joseph Village, Traditional Authority Mwaulambya, in Chitipa says IPS has taught him to “leave children alone because, as potential leaders, they should be busy attending to classes instead of working”.
Forty-two year-old Musongole, who joined IPS in the 2013/14 planting season, says he has been able to construct houses, buy livestock and establish a bottle store by working on his farms alone, despite having two children who may be more than willing to offer a helping hand.
“A responsible farmer should not engage children in farming. The children can learn about good farming practices in the formal education system. Parents should be in the forefront promoting the welfare of their children, instead of spoiling it,” Musongole says.
International tobacco buyers promote seven principles in tobacco farming. These include a crusade against child labour, the promotion of a safe work-environment, the matching of income and working hours, fair treatment, guarding against forced labour, the promotion of freedom of association and compliance with the law.
A ‘Training in all Agricultural Labour Practices’ manual, released in September 2011 by Philip Morris International— one of the international tobacco buyers— when PMI Africa trained Alliance One International Malawi in November 2011 indicates that farmers who violate these principles face dire consequences.
The manual seeks to “progressively eliminate child labour and other labour abuses where they are found and to achieve fair working conditions on all farms from which Alliance One customers source tobacco”.
Child labour is prohibited in Malawi. The Malawi Government, in the Employment Act, Chapter 55, directs that no children under 16 years should be involved in work. It only allows persons aged between 16 and 18 years to do “non-hazardous work”.
Alliance One Tobacco (Malawi) Corporate Affairs Manager, Fran Malila, observes that “Hazardous child labour is work that is dangerous, unsafe or unhealthy to the child because of its conditions and the type of work. Such work could result in a child being exploited, killed, injured, or become ill”.
Malila says, to avoid cases where children are employed on farms in the country, tobacco farmers are informed about acceptable agricultural labour practices.
“All Alliance One contracted growers are sensitised on ALP [Agricultural Labour Practice] issues and are invited for training by the leaf technicians. All farmers are contractually obligated to comply with all of the seven principles through contracts signed at the beginning of each season. Through the IPS system and the ALP programmes, Alliance One is better able to reach and educate it’s contracted growers on the importance of ALP compliance,” Malila says.
She adds: “Our approach is to improve conditions for farmers and workers through direct interaction with contracted farmers by leaf technicians and area field administrators based in each of the 10 growing areas, conducting training on ALP codes to encourage farmers to comply with labour codes, following up on reported incidences, [and taking] remedial actions whenever non-compliance is observed, [and conducting] sensitisation meetings with community leaders and members.”
She says, to ensure that all contracted tobacco farmers are informed, Alliance One has 185 leaf technicians in 10 growing areas as well as 10 area field administrators who concentrate solely on ALP monitoring, reporting, training, and advising farmers, workers and the communities on ALP.
Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Minister, Allan Chiyembekeza, says the government is committed to ensuring that no children are employed on farms, hence welcomes all initiatives aimed at stemming child labour in the country.
Chiyembekeza says child labour gives nations a bad name, hence the government’s commitment to eliminating all forms of child labour.
Gender, Disability and Social Welfare Minister, Patricia Kaliati, says her ministry has stepped up efforts aimed at dealing with perpetrators of child labour, observing that “those who deliberately engage children in harmful labour will be smoked out and shamed”.
“Child labour should never be condoned and we are ready to work with those who are willing to cooperate with us on ending this malpractice. We are happy that some tobacco companies are promoting adherence to this law. Our appeal is that we should join hands and ensure that children are in class, instead of working places,” Kaliati says.
Still, a lot needs to be done to ensure that those who think employing children forms part of the child’s learning process are reached out. Otherwise, some people and institutions may be fighting on the surface while others are planting the seeds of child labour in the background.