Tobacco tenancy system rife—ILO

Tobacco tenancy system rife—ILO

Despite its abolition in the country, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) says the tenancy system is still existing with 31 469 children working in tobacco farms.

In a report titled ‘International Labour Organisation survey on tenant growers in Malawi’s tobacco industry 2024’, ILO indicates that out of 355 582 tobacco industry workers, almost three quarters or 264 661 workers, operate under tenancy arrangement.

The report further shows that tenants are distributed across all the country’s three regions, but most of them concentrated in the Central Region where the bulk of tobacco is grown.

Reads the survey in part: “The regional distribution of tenants is striking, with the large majority located in the Central region at 71.1 percent followed by the Northern Region at 21.3 percent and Southern Region at 7.6 percent.

“Notably, more than half of tenants are located in two districts of Lilongwe at 45.8 percent and Mzimba at 14.3 percent.”

According to the survey, workers in the tenancy system are at a heightened risk of forced and child labour particularly due to lack of information at the time of recruitment.

“The survey found that the majority of tenants did not receive information about the type of job they would be doing, their working hours, the number of off-duty days they would be entitled to each week, working conditions, wages or the amount to be paid for tobacco produced,” reads the report.

The survey says it is important to emphasise that any work performed by children in tobacco cultivation is considered child labour, given that tobacco is categorised as hazardous work for all individuals under the age of 18.

Reacting to the report yesterday, Tama Farmers Trust president Abiel Kalima Banda said the tenancy system was abolished in Malawi although others are still practising it.

He said: “Tenancy was outlawed in Malawi after realising that it qualifies as forced labour, as such, all farmers need to avoid such a malpractice.

“Tama Farmers Trust is running a campaign to sensitise farmers to the ill forms of labour.”

Banda said child labour has the potential of ruining the country’s exports as they will be no willing buyer of the country’s commodity.

But Malawi Congress of Trade Unions president Charles Kumchenga said tenancy is still rampant in most tobacco-growing areas and although his organisation condemns it, there is evidence that others are still practising the system.

He said: “This is negatively affecting school- going children in the country. It is also making some people not to be on permanent jobs.”

Meanwhile, Ministry of Labour commissioner for labour Hlalerwayo Kelvin Nyangulu said tenancy is prohibited by law although it is still being practised.

He said authorities will continue to monitor and ensure the system is totally abolished.

Tenancy is a system where estate owners employ people to grow their tobacco on their behalf with the owner supplying farm inputs and food on credit and the money is recovered from them upon selling the tobacco.

In 2019, the United States Customs and Border Protection issued a World Release Order (WRO) or tobacco ban, allowing it to detain tobacco from Malawi, which was believed to have been produced with forced labour.

Following the WRO, tobacco shipments arriving in USA was being detained at the port of entry before being subjected to heavy scrutiny to prove that the leaf is not produced with child labour, which is prohibited under the US law.

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