The people are losing their dignity through the production process of cigarettes for the western market. For example, most cigarettes consumed in France include tobacco from Malawi, the fifth tobacco manufacturer in the world. 80,000 children are oppressed by this worldwide need for cigarettes and get intoxicated while employed in the fields. Shepard, a twelve-year-old boy, lives with his family in the North of Malawi in a region where tobacco is grown. With him is his sister Jessie and other kids that are between 9 and 14 years old.
Shepard’s dad cultivates two hectares of tobacco plantations. He thought he would make money and get out of the corn production business. But his dreams quickly turned into nightmares. Tobacco production is a very long and tiresome. It needs three times the labor force than corn and the profit is too small to do without child employment. In Malawi, child labor under 14 years old is officially banned. But for Shepard’s mother it is the only way to feed the family.
Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, depends mainly on the tobacco culture. It makes more than 60% of its abroad trade. Companies like British American Tobacco, Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco exploit this reliance by loaning money to small farmers. They stimulate them to grow tobacco. “Forced” to produce tobacco, families have stopped producing corn.
Ironically, with the profit from the tobacco, peasants are buying the corn they are no longer cultivating. Shepard’s family produces near a ton and a half of tobacco, but once they pay the loans back, they are left with $200 a year. Whole family lives under the same roof… humbly, without basic necessities. But each year, animated by the powerful tobacco industry, they hope a better life is possible.
The Government turns a blind eye to this robbery just for the sake of the country’s economy. But tobacco doesn’t only cause societal troubles. The farmers also put their health at risk. Handling tobacco with bare hands makes the skin absorb nicotine equivalent to 50 cigarettes per day.