• May 21, 2024

Malawi’s tenancy system ‘evil’

Malawi’s Minister of Labor, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development, Henry Mussa, has said that having the Tenancy Labor Bill in place would not, on its own, guarantee an improvement in the welfare of tenants, according to a story in The Nyasa Times.

Mussa was speaking in Lilongwe on Tuesday during a workshop on the bill at which delegates expressed mixed reactions to proposals to regulate or abolish the use of tenancy labor in tobacco production.

“What we are saying is that this system is not only evil, but also detrimental to the country’s development drive whose beacon lies in agriculture,” said Mussa.

“We cannot expect to effectively grow our economy when a large proportion of our farmers remain trapped under the poverty line,” he added.

Under the tenancy system, estate owners, usually called landlords, recruit farmers from distant districts to grow tobacco for them on their estates. The tenants are offered accommodation and food, and a cut of the earnings from sales.

The Tenancy Labor Bill was first drafted in 1995 and redrafted in 2005. It seeks to end the tenancy system widely regarded as highly exploitative.

According to a 2015 study by the Center for Social Concern (CfSC), tenants provide the largest labor input on tobacco farms, accounting for 63 percent of the labor required to produce tobacco and prepare it for sale.

However, the study – entitled Tobacco Production and Tenancy Labor in Malawi – notes that tenancy labor in its current practice is characterized by very low returns and often exploitative arrangements that marginalize and degrade workers.

Such conditions have given rise to complaints among tenants. The study found that 91 percent of complaints in labor offices are those reported by tenants against estate owners.

And the findings have moved the CfSC to call for the abolition of the tenancy labor system in the country. “In this day and age, current tenancy labor practices should be discouraged, if not abolished,” said CfSC director Father Jos Kuppens. “Evidence has shown that the tenancy labor problems cannot simply be wished away, something needs to be done.”

Photo by khym54