28th
Feb
2014

Posted in Reference

Uganda is situated in East Africa, with Kenya and the crucial port of Mombasa lying to its east. Although an equatorial country, its weather is quite varied due to differences in altitude. In the west of the nation, on the slopes of the Rwenzori Mountains, is the heart of Uganda's main tea growing region, which has a rainy climate all year round and is the source of the River Nile. This landlocked nation has several lakes, many named for British royalty – Lake Victoria, Lake Albert, Lake Edward and Lake George – a legacy of its British colonial past. Tea was a significant feature of that past, but is even more important today; more than a quarter of the population live on under a pound a day, so tea cultivation, and agriculture in general, is crucial to survival.

Child labour is a controversial subject and yet a reality on Ugandan tea farms. With Aids having claimed the live of many adults, it is far from unusual to encounter children brought up by grandparents too old to work themselves. The older children will inevitably work to help support their new family units, meaning that it's very difficult for them to pursue the education necessary to improve their life chances. Thus many remain mired in rural poverty and yet until alternative support is securely in place, their labour cannot realistically be brought to a stop.

The challenge of ending child labour is widely recognised and steps are being taken to address the issue. The Mabale Growers Tea Factory provides a good example of a positive work in progress. The enterprise consists of two tea estates and a tea processing factory that were state owned until Idi Amin came into power in the 1970s, at which point they were abandoned. They have since been revamped and privatised as part of the current government's Smallholder Tea Programme which aims to improve rural livelihoods. Mabale is now owned by 1,000 shareholders, the majority of whom are subsistence farmers whose tea is processed at the factory and transported to Mombasa for export to countries like the UK for use in teabags. The factory guarantees to buy and collect the daily harvest of shareholders and the shareholders in turn provide employment for their tea pickers.

A small percentage of the harvest is bought by Fairtrade, which has worked with the local community to further improve their lives. Efforts have included the construction of schools, a clinic, roads, tea leaf collection sheds and concrete covers for wells to prevent contamination. Although there is undoubtedly a long way to go, slowly but surely the lives and opportunities of those in the Ugandan tea trade are improving.

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