Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Harriet Lamb in Nairobi, Kenya

It’s been quite a week in Nairobi, Kenya. Watching the pennies, I’ve been staying at the Seventh Day Adventists guest house where there’s no tea or coffee on offer at breakfast – though strangely hot chocolate is, even though it must be a stimulant too. Then I’ve been spending all day with tea and coffee farmers – which is stimulating enough to keep me going for weeks.

We visit a group of coffee smallholders at Machakos, less than two hours from Nairobi. Yet they have no electricity in their area which is very poor - so poor in fact that only two years ago they faced famine. The Chairman of the Kaliluni group explains: ‘Two years running there was a drought and so the crops failed. It was a famine. When the farmers came together to decide how to use the Fairtrade premium, they could only think how hungry they were. So they used the premium as famine relief.’ The management had wanted to invest the Fairtrade premium in new tables on which they dry the coffee, so improving productivity and quality - but how could they do that when people were hungry, he said - we just didn’t have enough premium to do both so we put the plans on hold until they've sold enough on Fairtrade terms. 

Even normal times are tough times. The Chairman says: ‘Most farmers here are below the poverty line. It’s very tough when they come needing money. They can't even get work and if they do get work on a farm, it’s only 100 Kenyan shillings (about £1) a day – imagine feeding a family on that!’

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