Tobacco farmers unite against child labour allegations

Staff Reporter

In a forceful rebuttal to recent claims suggesting the prevalence of serious child labour within the country's tobacco industry, local farmers have voiced their concerns, denouncing these allegations as false and detrimental to the reputation of their flourishing sector.

Speaking to this publication, the farmers emphasised the baseless nature of the accusations, attributing them to a misguided attempt to tarnish the image of Zimbabwe's tobacco production.

Charity Muswere, a seasoned tobacco farmer from Chivhu, was among the first to dispel the rumours, highlighting the specialised nature of tobacco farming.

"The intricacies of tobacco cultivation require a set of skills beyond the capacity of children. We, as adults, are wholly devoted to producing tobacco of the highest quality, and the notion of employing children in such a demanding environment is both impractical and unfounded," Muswere stated.

Further reinforcing this sentiment, Muswere added, "Our commitment to excellence in tobacco production leaves no room for compromise. Employing children who lack the necessary expertise would only jeopardise the integrity of our crop. Such claims are not only baseless but also ignorant of the realities of tobacco farming."

Echoing Muswere's thoughts, Gedion Mbavha of Ruya Range in Mt Darwin expressed his perspective on the importance of education over labour for children.

"Our children belong in schools, acquiring knowledge for their future. Any suggestion that they are being utilised as labour on tobacco farms is a gross misrepresentation of our values and practices," Mbavha declared.

Walter Chigodora, from Hurungwe, pointed out the clear division of labour within the farming community.

"Tobacco farming is an adult's responsibility. Children may only participate in minor tasks, such as caring for younger siblings, if they are not in school. The demanding nature of our work is suited for adults," Chigodora explained.

Miriam Chindito of Centenary emphasised the protective stance of farming families towards their children, especially concerning exposure to chemicals.

"As parents and guardians, it's our paramount duty to shield our children from any harm. Tobacco farming involves handling various chemicals, making it imperative for us to keep our children distanced from the tobacco farming activities, safeguarding their health and well-being," Chindito articulated.

In a proactive move, Government established the Zimbabwe Tobacco Industry Working Group on Child Labour (TWCL) in April 2021, under the auspices of the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB).

This initiative, in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Service, Labour, and Social Welfare, aims to eradicate child labour within the tobacco sector, demonstrating a national commitment to upholding the highest ethical standards in agriculture.