BY ALICK PONJE:
He wakes up at 4am, tends to his tobacco field, and then goes to the grass -thatched shade mounted just about two meters away from the farm.
At the farm, the leaf is still green, and the outlook is promising.
This has been Justin Kombe’s daily routine each tobacco growing season for the past six years.
The exploits have paid dividends; he is among hundreds of farmers who have been rewarded for simply doing the needful.
“I grow tobacco under the Integrated Production System with Alliance One [Tobacco Company] through which I am able to get all the materials and other forms of support like extension services just like all other members of my club,” Kombe says.
He adds: “It is clear that we have produced a lot of tobacco of good quality and we are going to make a lot of money. Yet, on top of that, Alliance One is rewarding us with bicycles for improved mobility in our tobacco business.”
Recently, the tobacco company handed over 71 bicycles to 20 farmers’ clubs from Lilongwe East. The bicycles were valued at K4.7 million and were also part of Alliance One’s initiative of overcoming hurdles in tobacco production.
The company’s Corporate Affairs Manager, Fran Malila, says the contracted farmers who were awarded achieved milestones like increase in production and adhering to good agriculture practices and agriculture labour practices (ALP).
“One problem that our contracted farmers have managed to address is that of child labour. It was widespread in tobacco farms, but through our engagements, it has been significantly reduced. We continue to engage them on the matter,” Malila says.
According to the Ministry of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development, child labour in Malawi remains widespread as revealed by the 2015 Malawi National Child Labour Survey which found the prevalence rate to be at 38 percent or 2.1 million children aged between 5-17 years.
The ministry’s Principal Secretary, Joseph Mwandidya says such results show that Malawi needs to double her efforts to eliminate child labour as set out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“Children and young people who are engaged in work that is inappropriate or too much for their age stand a higher risk of suffering injuries and contracting occupational diseases,” Mwandidya warns.
He adds that child labour results in low levels of education, training and experience; immaturity in reasoning and physiological damage.
And Kombe is proud that he is among tobacco farmers who are circumventing such problems while also maximising production through the support they get.
“Our children are going to school, unlike in the past. It is a must within the contract with Alliance One that we should not use children in tobacco production,” he says.
Another aspect of Alliance One’s interventions for fair tobacco production is the promotion of the respect of workers’ rights which include fair wages.
According to Godfrey Chimenya, the company’s Social Services Coordinator, if workers are treated fairly, the production process becomes smooth and satisfies everyone.
Chimenya also says apart from promoting good agriculture labour practices, the tobacco company goes further with its corporate social responsibility initiatives by supporting communities in need of various social services.
“We are involved in education, where we are constructing school blocks and other structures. We are also engaged in water and sanitation services and the health sectors, among many others,” he says.
And these do not benefit the company’s contracted farmers only. That is why Kombe hopes that such interventions will continue so that more and more people benefit.
While he would like to be rewarded again next year, he also hopes that others will improve their production and stand the chance.