Improved nutrition of tea workers leads to better health and productivity for a more motivated workforce
Many tea workers in Malawi, especially tea pluckers, come from poverty-stricken homes. This makes proper nutrition — consumption of vitamin-rich food — a continued challenge for both workers and the industry.
To ensure that workers are healthy and productive, Malawi Tea 2020 worked with the Tea Association of Malawi (TAML) to make sure that tea estates provide better nutrition to their workers. This initiative was welcomed by the tea producers, who also realised the need for their workers to be healthy and therefore productive. A petition by TAML called for tea estates to provide at least one portion of a vegetables per week to workers, as well as fortified maize meal.
Tea estates were already providing lunch to their workers — consisting primarily of nsima made from maize flour and a portion of pigeon peas. Vegetables and fortified maize were not part of these meals until the Malawi Tea 2020 programme. Provision of such nutritionally rich foodstuff is in line with the programme’s third pillar of achieving a healthy, motivated, productive workforce.
TAML has put in place measures to ensure that a healthy, motivated and productive workforce according to Pillar 3 of the project. The impact of the nutrition programme is very tangible as it is estimated that during peak seasons, the estates feed about 36,000 workers and about 19000 workers during off peak seasons. Not only do we provide fortified meals, we have also continuously provided Nutrition education for the workers in the estates.
Fortified maize meal
With support from IDH and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), TAML supported tea estates with expertise in how to fortify maize flour. The process involves adding vital vitamins to maize flour to ensure proper nutrition of workers. All but four tea estates now provide fortified meals; the remaining four are in the process of procuring fortification machines, which they expect to install in 2020.
Before introducing fortified maize flour, IDH funded various meetings to raise nutritional awareness.
The aim was to educate workers on the fortification process, and the importance of fortifying maize meal. Naturally, there were mixed reactions: some workers had misconceptions regarding fortification, believing that fortified maize was a government intervention to prevent them from having children as a way of controlling the growing population. The meetings were an effective way of laying these misconceptions to rest.
Stafford Mendulo, a tea capitao from Nchima, Lujeri Estate, commended the tea estates for introducing fortified maize as it gives workers access to vital vitamins for good health. However, he expressed a wish for more variety: they usually eat their nsima with pigeon peas or beans and a portion of vegetables, which grows tiresome every day.
Regardless that the fortified nsima does not taste different, we are grateful to the estate for being thoughtful about health.
In order to further improve the health of workers, TAML asked its member estates to provide at least one portion of vegetables per week as part of the workers’ lunch. Again, this was well received by the tea estates — and some have even gone beyond the requested serving. The Kawalazi estate now provides vegetables not once a week but every day.
To support the initiative, estates have allocated land for vegetable gardens and provided inputs, while IDH has supported them with funds for training on vegetable cultivation. In some estates, such as Kawalazi and Naming’omba, these gardens are run by women working on the estates and the wives of estate workers, economically empowering them. These women grow organic vegetables, which they can then sell to the estates. In 2019, at Kawalazi estate, each woman made an annual income of €40 from vegetable sales while at Naming’omba estate the women made MKW 62,618 (USD 83) each. The difference in the income earned is because of the different vegetables the two groups of women grew. Women from Naming’omba grew red cabbage which has a higher value than the indigenous vegetables which women from Kawalazi grew.
Although it’s widely agreed that the nutrition programme has added value, it’s not easy to measure how much the workers’ nutritional status has improved as a result of maize fortification and vegetable provision. However, the estates are keen to continue with the initiative as it has proved to be symbiotic, and therefore sustainable. The women regrow vegetables each season from their previous year’s proceeds, and the estates offer them an available market as they need the vegetables to feed their workers in order to meet TAML’s requirements.