Oxfam in Malawi has offered tea producers coronavirus prevention accessories worth K18 million from the Rainforest Alliance and IDH, a sustainable tea initiative in the Netherlands.
According to Oxfam country director Lingalireni Mihowa, the tap buckets, soap, chlorine and face masks will improve the safety of workers in nine estates across Mulanje, Thyolo and Nkhata Bay.
Oxfam is running the Tea 2020 Revitalising Programme to empower the Plantation and Agriculture Workers Union to ensure producers of the country’s second-largest forex earner earn a decent wage to end inequalities.
Presenting the items to Tea Association of Malawi (TAM) in Blantyre on Thursday, she stated: “Tea production in Malawi remains one of the most labour-intensive industries, employing over 50 000. The months between March and September are generally peak seasons for tea plucking, presenting a high risk of Covid-19 transmission due to congestion of workers.
“Any disruption caused by the coronavirus disease could have severe setbacks on the workers and the economy.”
Tea contributes between three and 11 percent to the country’s gross domestic product, making it the second-largest lifeline of the economy after tobacco.
TAM chairperson Sangwani Hara said the donation of hygiene and safety equipment could not have come at a better time than the International Tea Day.
The United Nations set aside the observance to celebrate the contribution of the second most taken drink after water to humanity and economies.
Tea production was already declining due to climate change when the Covid-19 pandemic kicked in last December.
Now, players forecast a worse slump as efforts to stop coronavirus transmission means fewer hands producing less tea.
Said Hara: “We were supposed to mark this day with a road show, but this is not possible due to the outbreak.
“To protect our workers, we are adhering to guidelines from the Ministry of Health, including regularly washing hands with soap which is expensive and decongesting workspaces which reduces production.”
Pawu chairperson Denis Banda asked the association to swiftly distribute the hand-washing kits and face masks to tea estates because “a worker who feels safe is happy and productive”.