The International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) has acknowledged that child labour is rampant in the tobacco sector, but maintains it is a global problem not only peculiar to the farming of the golden leaf.
Addressing journalists at the end of a three day regional meeting in Harare Wednesday, ITGA President, Francois van der Merwe, said tobacco growers worldwide had created a foundation to look into the issue of child labour in the industry.
“We recognised that it is a world-wide problem not found in tobacco only. It is a consequence of poverty and is common in most poor countries. It is mainly in the agriculture sector because that is where there are many poor people,” he said.
Van der Merwe said the problem seemed more rampant in the farming of tobacco because it used more labour than any other agriculture sector such as rice and maize.
He said the ITGA was working with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in projects aimed at reducing the prevalence of child labour.
“So we have created a foundation and we have done projects in many countries such as Uganda, Tanzania, Mexico and, Malawi among others. So the issue has been handled, but the point is that tobacco industry cant resolve the issue of poverty,” he said.
He said the projects, which were aimed at ensuring that children go to school, should be supported by respective governments for them to be successful.
Van de Merwe said there was no way the problem could be eliminated completely, adding countries could only mitigate.
However, the Zimbabwe National Farmers Union Director, Edward Tome, played down the extent of the problem in Zimbabwe, saying it was being exaggerated.
“The West needs to understand the cultural practice of African people where children learn trades through working together with their parents. The focus is to have children learn a better life at a tender age,” he said.
The ITGA Africa Regional meeting was attended by representatives of tobacco growers from Malawi, Zambia, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe, together with representatives of the International Tobacco Growers’ Association, where they discussed issues affecting their livelihoods and that of their workers.