Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Blooming with enthusiasm by Harriet Lamb

Ever been shopping in Asda, picked up a bunch of beautiful Fairtrade roses and wondered where they came from? Well there’s a good chance that they were grown at Valentine Roses, just an hour or so outside Nairobi, depending on the state of the traffic jams. The Joint Body members who show me around are the most enthusiastic that I have ever met in my long Fairtrade life! The Vice Chair, Florence Onyango, says she loves her job: ‘Working with flowers is everything to me’. Everyone agrees that ‘Having a job in Kenya is a privilege’. The workers here, she says, were all scared during the volcanic ash week when no flowers could be sold.

When we go over to their new tree nursery, the unbelievably tall and lanky gardener Stephen enthuses about the 30,000 saplings under his care: ‘Advertise our work’, he calls. Then the Joint Body member who leads the tree sub-committee comes shooting over to share his vision of greening the plantation. As we leave, there’s no mistaking his house - it is hidden in a forest of beautifully tended trees and flowers! ‘He cannot stop decorating everything’, laughs Florence. His neighbour got a loan from a revolving fund run by the Joint Body; he bought one cow and sold the milk – now he has three cows and is employing someone to help.

We pass workers clustered around getting big bottles of gas. The Joint Body sells them at cost price (1,690 Kenyan shillings as opposed to 2,000 in the shops) on a hire purchase basis which the workers pay back in three instalments, interest free. As we leave, the gateman turns out to have a 16 year old son, Dominic, at secondary school now thanks to an educational bursary from the premium. He is planning to be a chemist.

But for the young Chairman, it is the capacity building that is their most important achievement – the way people have grown, learnt new things, learnt to think in new ways: ‘I wouldn’t have dared to do this before’. So they are planning much more training next year. The smiley Vice-Chair has also surprised herself. She would never put herself in the front light before she says. Now she is positively blooming with calm self-confidence.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Ben & Jerry's Nuts about Fairtrade Sundae by Barbara Crowther

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, who created their ice cream company with a difference, always say ‘If it isn’t fun, don’t do it’. For the 25,000 people attending this year’s Ben & Jerry Sundae on the Common, that’s certainly true as it tests just how far you can stretch an insatiable appetite for free ice cream whilst simultaneously challenging you to toe wrestling, carousel rides and sack races.
This year, there was a real Fairtrade twist to the whole festival which literally went Nuts about Fairtrade, as a celebration of the company’s commitment to go 100% Fairtrade across all 39 flavours and 121 different chunks, swirls and ingredients across Europe by the end of next year.
Wandering round all the attractions, the passion for Fairtrade is clear to see – not just in the 6 flavours of Fairtrade icecream on offer (Vanilla, Vanilla Toffee Crunch, Chocolate Macadamia, Chunky Monkey, Chocolate Fudge Brownie and new flavour Fairly Nuts) on offer, but the bar is serving Fairtrade wines, spirits, juices and Ubuntu cola, and even the cotton in this year’s festival T-shirt is Fairtrade.
At the Fairtrade tasting tent, a growing queue inches eagerly towards a cornucopia of Fairtrade goodies, from Equal Exchange’s delicious walnuts and brazil nuts to Harry’s Nuts, to the newly launched Sainsbury’s fruit bars – containing delicious pineapple and apricot, or banana and mango sourced from dedicated Fair Trade brand Tropical Wholefoods. There are free samples of Fairtrade breakfast muesli from Traidcraft and Dorset Cereals, whose chocolate and macadamia crunchy cereal seems less of a breakfast health food to me, and more of a seriously decadent treat. The breakfast theme continues with Cafedirect regular and decaffeinated coffee samples, and I have to stop one particularly eager punter from stocking up for a month!

Most popular of all are the various chocolatey treats on offer, from Traidcraft’s newly launched chocolate coated mixed nuts, and chocolate coated raisins, and of course, the scrumptious range of chocolate bars from Divine Chocolate. Handing out the samples gives us a great opportunity to tell people about how Divine is the only UK chocolate company owned by Ghanaian cocoa farmers, or about the work Tropical Wholefoods have done to pioneer solar drying techniques with the apricot farmers of the Hunza valley in Pakistan. There’s a new rush of popularity on our stall when we start giving people tasters of some fantastic Fairtrade wines, including one of my personal favourite, Stellar Organics, as I have visited the farm and winery, and met many of the workers over the years, who now have a 26% shareholding in the winery and are working towards a 50% ownership of the farm.
Across the field, kids are battling it out in the Banana Wars – using giant inflatable bananas in a symbolic struggle for supremacy in the global marketplace. For us it’s a game, but for Caribbean Fairtrade farmers, the struggle for fair prices and market access is all too real, as my colleague Aurelie recently pointed out in the Guardian. Backstage, hardworking Fairtrade volunteer Amaya is busy charming all the bands with Fairtrade goodie bags, and we’re delighted when the drummer of Frightened Rabbit wears a Fairtrade cotton t-shirt onstage. Afterwards the whole band dons the t-shirts.

All the bands we meet show a genuine interest in Fairtrade, and many of them talk about it in between songs. But the best moment for me comes when the legendary Billy Bragg performs his entire set wearing a bright blue pair of Pants to Poverty y-fronts, and is then joined for a final Drop the Debt version of Bob Marley’s ‘One Love’ by his newly dubbed backing dancers, Pants People!   I bet Ben and Jerry would have loved it too – it’s exactly the kind of fun with a serious social justice message their company was always meant to be about.

Ben & Jerry's video look back

View our Facebook fan page photos

Watch the Ben & Jerry's dancing cows

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The Fairtrade Family Gets Everywhere by Harriet Lamb

It really is all over. On Cape Town High Streets, the workmen are taking down the endless football-themed lights; the kids are back to school after a special extra month's holiday to watch the matches and when we go to Fair View vineyard they declare 'Beat the Post-World Cup depression, buy this wine.' But the vineyards are far from depressed. It seems that the World Cup has given a welcome boost to South African wines overseas. Until now, they say, many people in the West had no idea that South Africa was a distinct country from Southern Africa. In fact, they've all been killing themselves over a foreign TV news programme which had the World Cup emblem all over South America!

Fair View is the home of the eccentric Goats do Roam (which could just possibly sound like Cote Du Rhone) wine. There really are goats roaming the farm and award-winning goat cheeses. But the French were not amused and took the company to court. Beating them at their own game, the vineyard workers turned up outside the Embassy for a 'toi-toi' or demo with plenty of placard-waving. Finally the courts ruled in the South African's favour. So they've kept the joke going. Try for example their 'Bored Doe'.

Fair View now also own a number of Fairtrade wines. Look out for their Six Hats, for Hope's Garden in Asda and the Fairtrade Pinotage in Sainsburys - they all come from Bergendal, one of the Fairtrade certified farms that we visit who grow a range of crops. The sun is out, shining on the beautiful mountains and orange groves, and the sheep are grazing round the roobois tea bushes as the charming owner shows us round the creche, the pre-school, the community hall, the school facilities, the sports fields - all built with the Fairtrade premium. Everyone is off to play in a local rugby tournament, this being South Africa, but we catch up with Leizel, one of the Joint Body workers who has worked her way up to be a supervisor at their roobois tea factory. She tells us that her next ambition is to learn to drive. We talk about Fairtrade as a global family.

On the way to Fair View's restaurant, we stop to admire the breath-taking view across the vast valley and the unique flora and fauna of this area including the Proteus flowers that are such a symbol of South Africa. At the viewing point, a family have set up a 'braai' - or the ever-popular barbeque - the kids are playing around the steep slopes watched nervously by their mother. We get chatting and it soon turns out that the man markets Fairtrade citrus to the UK! Soon, the braai is interrupted by talk of minimum prices and the need to increase sales of Fairtrade oranges. Meeting the Fairtrade standards is difficult and expensive for farms, especially in South Africa where Fairtrade insisted on farms linking into the Government's Black Economic Empowerment scheme to transfer ownership and management to the black communities. So, they need enough sales to make it worthwhile and so far, apart from bananas, Fairtrade fruit isnot so well known. He's pleased to hear that we are launching a Fairtrade fruit campaign in the autumn.

Amazed at the coincidence, we go on to have a delicious lunch of goats cheese and, obviously, wine at Fair View. Before long, the young man on the next door table comes shyly over: 'Do you remember me.' he asks. 'I once volunteered at the Fairtrade Foundation. It was five years ago when I was a student travelling around Europe and I spent a few months in the Fairtrade office'. This Fairtrade family certainly gets everywhere!

Monday, 19 July 2010

Harriet Lamb visits Cape Town's Township Trades

Cape Town has to be the coolest city on earth. I am staying at the Daddy Long Legs Hotel which is part of a Fair trade in tourism scheme, so the coffee's good. Each room has been decorated by a local artist. I am staying in 'Open' next to 'Please do not disturb' and 'Phone Booth'. My room is wallpapered with hundreds of photos of African sun-rises and has a round bed on the floor. It makes you feel like a model or a movie star, except that there are also mirrors everywhere on the walls and ceilings offering a painful reminder that I definitely am not and never could be.

A short way from the centre of Cape Town is a painful reminder that it's not all 'chilaxing' and trendy art. Khayelitsha is the second largest township in South Africa, after Soweto. A terrifying 30% of its people are HIV/Aids positive. That's why Township Trades was established here, making the beautiful hand-made Fairtrade certified Visionary Soaps you can buy in Oxfam shops, Traidcraft and Waitrose among others. There's just five people working there and they are an utter joy to meet. Vusu from Zimbabwe is the father figure, who is pouring geranium rose oil into the mix in a big plastic bucket, stirring it with an adapted power drill. It looks like he is whipping cream and in much the same way, the mixture suddenly goes thick and is poured into crates to harden.

Neatly stored in one corner is a huge container of Fairtrade olive oil from Palestine, just one of the many Fairtrade ingredients from across the world that make the soap. I describe the difficulties of the farmers in Palestine and the workers shake their heads in disbelief. They are also using cocoa and shea nut butter from Ghana. There's a shipment of coconut oil from Fair Trade Alliance Kerala on the water as we speak and the two women are patiently cutting with scissors an order of lemongrass.

They all love the bag made with Fairtrade cotton that I've brought with me. Soon Blessings is prancing about, posing. We have a laugh about how great it must be to work in a soap factory. All the other men in factories come home smelly and dirty but the soap guys must gather a following of women seduced by the sweet smell of soap that pervades their little building.

Sandy is the woman brought in to turn the company round. She's from a straight corporate background, more used to going out with bankers and enjoying fifty pound bottles of wine. But she wanted to take on a social enterprise and now her capable hands are more than full. She cannot believe how impossible it is to get any European bank to invest in a business in South Africa, her profit margins are too tight and she needs more orders badly. But they are all pretty determined. As Blessing says: 'Maybe one day we will put on a suit and tie and go overseas to get to present our soap business overseas'.


Top: Township Trades make sure they don't create any waste so produce egg shaped soaps that can be purchased through Visionary.

Bottom: A member of the Township Trade team using a powerdrill as part of the soap production process.

Friday, 16 July 2010

A visit to Fairhills, South Africa by Harriet Lamb

Today we met up with Mkhululi, the widely respected regional coordinator for Southern Africa. With him we go to visit Fairhills, whose wines you can enjoy in the Coop and who have used the premium to run a creche, among much, much more. On the way Mkhululi tells us that the joke doing the rounds in South Africa is: If only England had won! That way, given the fuss they still make about the last time England won, they would have talked about the World Cup in South Africa for the next 50 years, which would have been good for us...

It is shocking and inspiring to talk to the people at Fairhills. Shocking to learn that it was only in 1996 that white South African wine farmers finally stopped paying workers partly in wine. The legacy is still all too strong: many, many workers are alchoholics. So Fairhills runs special schemes to help such people. To date, 47 people have been on their programme with a 97% success rate.

They explain how important the Fairtrade standards are -  the sad truth is that too many workers in South Africa do not know, let alone get, their basic employment rights. At least, they say, Fairtrade ensures that the employment laws are met. So that is the starting point. Next, most workers are illiterate given that one of the many terrible legacies of apartheid was an education system shot to pieces. Today Fairhills claims to run the largest adult literacy program in the Western Cape with workers from 19 years old to 72!

Fairhills as a wine brand is 25% owned by the workers. Their vision is that one day, as well as owning the brand, the workers will also be part-owners of the farms growing the grapes. So that one day very soon, sitting round the Board table of the farmers' cooperative growing the grapes, along with the 21 white farm owners will be the first black representative of the workers - who will then also own a farm. The vision is almost within their grasp, as the workers' Joint Body seeks to build the capital and the knowledge to buy a farm and take their rightful place at the table.

It's also totally shocking to go through the figures with Fairhills. They reckon that if you or me pay 3.75 for a bottle of wine, only 35p goes for the wine itself! The rest is swallowed down mostly by the taxmen who take about 2.50 (including both VAT and an import duty imposed on wines from South Africa by the EU, an inequity that has the South Africans' blood boiling) and the retailers... As ever, talking to the farmers and workers reminds me to fill the To Do List many times over... And yet it is always so inspiring that so many people are ready to give their energy to finding solutions.

Photos. Top: Harriet with Mkhululi at Fair Hills at one of their hand craft shops that use space where wine was once stored. Bottom: Mkhululi at the Fair Hills computer lab set up using their Fairtrade premium.

Visit the World of Fairhills blog

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Harriet Lamb visits South Africa's first Fairtrade cafe

South Africa is slowly waking up from its long football party. There are fewer fans prancing the streets in bright colours, vast television screens are being taken down and the vuvuzela sellers are trying to shift their remaining stock. Mind you, one shopkeeper tells me that he sold 700 yesterday as departing fans snapped up the year’s most popular present!

Apparently Vuvuzela has been voted the word of the 2010 World Cup by global linguists who said that the tournament will be best remembered for the naem of South Africa's trumpet. Meanwhile, in a post-party reflective mood, the papers are full of articles such as in today's (13.7.10) Times: 'The World Cup has accustomed us to achieving grand dreams'. The success, writes journalist Raenette Taljaard, means that there is a new found intolerance for mediocrity, calling on the government to apply the same success to all Government projects.

I’m troubled by how unfair it all is.  No, I’m not talking about the daylight robbery of Ghana – or even about international trade. But rather the fact that I have left London glorying in a heat wave while in South Africa I am shivering in my cotton dresses that so rarely get an outing. As a self-confessed sun-junkie, it’s not very funny. In fact, things so are so bad I decided I’ll have to buy some tights so trek off to Woolworths, which is the South African reincarnation of  Marks and Spencers – but minus the Fairtrade commitment. I’m getting a warm glow from covering my legs in nylon but it is disappointing to see that there is not a Fairtrade product in sight. Not one. A far cry from M&S in England with all its tea and coffee, sugar and jams being Fairtrade. But maybe that is all set to change.

To warm up we go to visit Bean There which has to be one of the nicest cafes in the world. It is also the first company to offer Fairtrade coffee in South Africa, and one of the few Fairtrade coffee roasters in Africa. The cafe is in a trendy revamped old building, with the coffee beans piled up in sacks in the corner. Stamped on one is Coopac, one of the cooperatives that they buy from. And the coffee is roasted right there, with steam and creamy smells pouring out all around you. The brother and sister dynamic duo behind the company join us over a really very delicious cappuncino and tell the story of their love affair with coffee and  Fairtrade.  It all with the departure from a corporate job in favour of back-packing around the world. In Canada someone was running a Fairtrade coffee shop and combining work and fun seemed the way to go.

Now they are leading the way for Fairtrade in South Africa, they are trying to get their coffee on to the supermarket shelves too.

Freeman, one of their baristas, brings over our coffee. When Bean There hosted a day for Fairtrade campaigners and volunteers, the cafe was very quiet. So Freeman sneaked in and sat listening to the training programme.  That was it.  He was hooked.  He stayed the whole day and is now a signed up campaigner, proudly wearing his Fairtade badge and off to a wine promotion this week.

In fact, wine is the main Fairtrade labelled product available in South Africa. The labelling organisation only got going a year ago and already has 13 companies signed up with more on their way soon. There’s enormous interest in getting Fairtrade going in South Africa – among companies, Government, NGOs and trade unions alike. No-one is doubting the scale of the challenge as Fairtrade is pretty much unknown here.  But the public seem up for it – Bean There has 6,500 people on their mailing list and 2,500 active Facebook debates on all things coffee and fair.

Boudewijn Goossens is keen that Fairtrade should be an African Affair – with products sources on the continent as much as possible. He points to the excitement that united the whole of Africa around the World Cup: everyone was cheering Ghana. And in the same way he’s convinced everyone will get behind Fairtrade goods from within Africa.

You certainly feel that, as the world cup slogan has it, Ke Nako – meaning Celebrate Africa's Humanity.

Meanwhile, an email comes through from the UK: The race horse Fair Trade came second in his race last week! Go, Fair trade, go... I'll just have to celebrate with a glass of Fairtrade South African wine....

Keep up with the latest news from Bean There Coffee at www.twitter.com/beantherecoffee

The Big Lunch 2010 by Ruth Bruce

Fairtrade Garstang's Chairperson Ruth Bruce talks about preperations for this weekend's Big Lunch.

On Sunday the 18th July at 1.00pm, the group behind Garstang Fairtrade Town will once again be celebrating the Big Lunch. This year we’re hoping for clear skies to go with family fun in Cherestanc Square, just outside Booths in Garstang, Lancashire. As with last year, we’ll be celebrating people, food and fun, bringing our community together and celebrating the communities behind our fresh fruit, cola and chocolate by choosing Fairtrade. Come join us and bring your picnic to our picnic! We’ll bring the music and plenty of Fairtrade themed fun including al fresco snakes and ladders and pin the Fairtrade tea on the teapot. There will also be plenty of Fairtrade goodies, from cotton wool to wine, for you to try, enjoy and try again and again… Any Big Lunchers out there looking for fabulous Fairtrade recipes and possibly a few, last minute ideas for events, have a look here

Bring your family and friends and relax in the open air, whilst we prove once again what a people friendly place Garstang is. The Big Lunch is an opportunity to celebrate people, place and food – we’re also celebrating ten years since we became the world’s first Fairtrade Town and that over 800 communities in 19 countries have followed in our footsteps.  Most of all, we’re proud to join Britain for a great Big Fair Lunch and that the farmers behind the Fairtrade goodies we’ll enjoy on Sunday  have been paid a fair price – enough to build a brighter future for their own communities. So roll on Sunday 18 June and let’s all raise a glass or two of Fairtrade bubbly to what really makes the world go round – people, place and making the best possible connections within and between our communities.

Find out more about The Big Lunch 2010 here.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Visiting tea farmers in Kenya by Harriet Lamb

Next day, we drive miles to visit groups of tea farmers. On the way Amos, who works for Fairtrade Africa, tells me about the Government’s problems getting to grips with malaria. In one area, they gave out free mosquito nets – only to find the farmers used them to protect vegetables in their small garden plots or to create runs for their chickens!

At Michimimkuru, which luckily is nicknamed Michi as otherwise my tongue was twisted, we meet Captain Andrew Ethuru, who sits on their Premium Committee and on the Board of the dedicated Fairtrade company, Cafedirect.  Although their tea is sold to a wide range of companies’ Fairtrade products from Asda to M&S, he  is effusive in praising Cafedirect for all their extra support. In particular, they have been working together on projects to protect the environment – from fuel-efficient stoves to planting trees. Currently, they are assessing whether they can put a windmill. By their current calculations, they could power the tea factory, meet the people’s needs and still make money selling to the grid.

They are in a different position to the Machakos coffee farmers. Indeed, says the Captain (who served in the Kenyan Airforce): 'Poor people make this golden thing for you to enjoy. They are out picking in the cold and wet and the returns are very little.’ But with Fairtrade, he tells how the farmers have used the premium to upgrade and improve the tea buying centres scattered across the hills, where farmers take their tea to be weighed and collected: ‘As farmers we are supposed to be running after getting food for our family; but the buying centres need upgrading...so that’s where the Fairtrade premium comes in. You can invest in the business and the farmers still have money to buy books for the children to go to school’.

Then we're off again to Iriaini where the whole air around the tea factory smells of drying tea-leaves and soon we’re enjoying the inevitable cup. The charming and gentle, but very entrepreneurial manager, Mathew Ngenda tells how the smallholders depend too heavily on tea, and how as each generation keeps sub-dividing their plots among their children, it is becoming harder to make a living. So the cooperative have created their own Iriaini tea brand which they are selling locally, making one and a half times more than they do in the auction.

Now, the support from Traidcraft and Africa Now, they are diversifying. They have invested their premium in 400 beehives – generated from Fairtrade premiums, which should soon generate their own premiums, a sweet extra source of income for hard-pressed families, as well as providing nutritious sweetener for the family to eat. They are planting passion-fruit trees whose fruit will be sold to a local pulping factory and then on to Traidcraft for their juices. And they've got into rabbit-keeping – again providing food and income for the families. 'What’s more', smiles Mathew, 'these extra projects have roped in the men – and the bees will help pollinate the pomegranate trees, and we have opened a local shop to sell our tea – and soon our honey'.
‘So you see', he says softly leaning across the desk, ‘Fairtrade is about the whole person. We used to just think of selling tea, tea, tea. But when you bought our tea for just a little extra, we started thinking. Who would have thought of rabbit-keeping or bee-keeping before?!’

Mathew is so right. No development manual would have thought that learning to drive was a top priority. But when we move on to visit Finlays tea estate, we discover that that has proved the most popular adult education class offered by the Fairtrade Joint Body of workers and management who decide on use of the premium.  George Gesora is the clean-cut, dynamic  young Chairman of the Body, who has just been elected for his second and last three year term. He explains how the thinking of the Joint Body, and the workers, has evolved over the short time that they have been selling on Fairtrade terms – from a more  individualistic  to a more community perspective.  

With pride, and with all the detailed expenditures neatly laid out on sheet of paper, the Joint Body members enumerate their achievements from sending children to school to bringing solar lighting to villages. When Kenya erupted into violence following contested elections in 2007, they used the premiums to buy blankets and food for refugees fleeing trouble.  Because most workers left school young, they are also majoring on adult education, giving the workers the chance to add to their skills. And that’s when learning to drive came up as the most popular demand. The first 100 have now got their licence and 300 more are in the queue.
But now, like Iriaini, they have hit on the idea of using the premium to generate income so that the Premium Committee's income becomes self-sustaining.   So they are going to buy two vans which will collect the tea from different weighing stations, where the workers bring their tea, and drive it to the factory – providing a service for which the company will pay them.  Then they plan to use the vans to buy in bulk maize, people’s staple food the price of which normally fluctuates wildly. They can sell to the workers for a small profit while still being cheaper than normal.  Their colleagues over at the Finlays flower factory are thinking of investing their premiums in Government bonds, building up a community resource and using only the interest. Everyone we talk to is spilling over with ideas and, as they find their feet and their confidence, with income generating initiatives to build on the premium and lever far greater change.

But these are very early days for such schemes and everyone has only one question for me – why can they not sell more of their tea as Fairtrade? What is happening in the market? Can we encourage more people to buy Fairtrade? The farmers and workers alike need increased premiums to fund their schemes, while other groups are queueing to join the system. At Finlays, everyone is thrilled when I get a packet of Sainsbury’s Red Label tea out of my bag. That’s where most of their tea goes, mixing into a blend with teas from across Africa, and amid cries of delight, they recognise the photo of the tea worker on the side as coming from Finlays! ‘The workers are all interested in the outcome of the product’, explains George. ‘We are all concerned about the market and we need it to grow so we get more premium.’

Everyone crowds round when I explain about how we are trying to raise awareness of Fairtrade in the UK – laughing at photos of campaigners prancing about in Strictly Fairtrade tea dances or dressing up as Fairtrade bananas. They are also excited to hear of Fairtrade Africa’s plans to start selling Fairtrade in Kenya itself. I am with some of the new team at Fairtrade Africa - Amos who co-ordinates producers in east Africa, and the vivacious marketing manager Wangari who is plotting how to launch Fairtrade products within Kenya. All the producers we meet are keen to back the idea, enthusiastically suggesting how they can help - with this contact, or that celebrity or supermarket contact. It will mean badly needed extra sales. But it will also be so empowering for the farmers and workers to see their own products on their own shop shelves, changing the endless reliance on exports and bringing Fairtrade back home.

In this ambition, Kenya will be following in the footsteps of South Africa where there are producers exporting to Europe as well as selling on the very new local Fairtrade market. And that's where I travel to on Saturday. Strangely, the plane is full of Flying Dutchmen resplendent in orange. When we land at the spanking clean new Johannesburg airport, the air itself seems to be grinning at the football. it is absolutely infectious - you feel that all of Africa is excited. There are vuvuzelas everywhere, photos of footballers from the world over at every corner. And yes, a lot of Dutchmen......

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!’

Monday, 12 July 2010

Harriet Lamb speaks with Ndumberi Coffee Farmers Co-operative

The Fairtrade Foundation Executive Director catches up with the Co-operative's chairman to learn more about its work.

Amid the muddy red earth of a Kenyan farm, stands a modest wooden meeting room full of the coffee farmers who sit on their cooperative's management Committees. But there is nothing modest about the trophy cabinet on the wall. It is bulging with cups and trophies that the cooperative has won: the second best cooperative in the whole of Kenya; the best managed coop in the District, the best loan recovery record, the highest payment rates to farmers... it's a proud record.

I've come to spend time in Africa, to listen to the Fairtrade farmers and workers and to the dynamic new team of their umbrella body, Fairtrade Africa. After ten years in Fairtrade, I want a longer time to hear from the producers about what is working well and less well and how we need to adapt and change Fairtrade for the future. And what better place to start than with the award-winning Ndumberi Coffee Farmers Co-operative Society Ltd. When I ask what they put their success down to, they say it's about hard work, leadership, transparency and accountabilty to their members.

They also talk of leadership and certainly that's a quality that shines from Raymond Gitau Wanjugi, their charismatic Chairman. Only two weeks ago I met him in the Fairtrade Foundation office in London as he came to represent Fairtrade Africa at the trade show, Caffe Culture. Now he tells me how the cooperative faced tough times over the past decades: the global coffee market was liberalised, prices collapsed, farm sizes were shrinking as plots were subdivided among children, productivity went right down. Gradually, the cooperative has turned all that round. They have organised intensive training for the farmers so as to improve productivity and, thanks to a Fairtrade grant, to build capacity of the managers.

They've made huge strides. Before, one coffee tree was yielding less than one kilo of coffee; now that has risen to 6 kilos - their plan is to get to 10 kilos before long. Then explains Raymond: 'We have put in a quality control lab so that we now know the grades of the coffee before we take it to the mill. Before, there was a lot of cheating - we'd take good grades and they would swap them for poor coffee and we couldnt do anything.'

Now they have ambitions plans to add more value to the coffee - they want to build a dry mill and market their own coffee in Kenya. Raymond says: ' Fairtrade has really opened doors for this cooperative'. He is certainly hoping that his recent visit to London will have opened a few more, so the cooperative can sell more of their coffee on Fairtrade terms. Certainly, the coffee farmers couldn't wish for a better ambassador.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Hannah Harris in Nairobi - Visit to Kaliluni Farmers Coop Society Ltd [Fairtrade certified for coffee]

 A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to go on a field trip with Amos, the AFN regional co-ordinator for Eastern Africa. Kaliluni is a very small coffee co-operative located just outside of Machakos, a town about 2 hours from Nairobi. We got terribly lost trying to find it, being hidden deep in the hillside, but the view once we found it was well worth the wait.

We were lucky enough to arrive just as all the coffee was being delivered. Streams and streams of people carrying red cherries in sacks on their backs kept walking past us. The place was brimming with people sorting, washing and weighing their coffee cherries; an amazing sight. Amos and I had a tour of the facility before heading into a meeting to discuss Fairtrade and AFN issues. A good opportunity for me to practise my Kiswahili (I followed a little of what they talked about, but they were kind enough to stop now and again and summarise in English for me!). Great that AFN have local staff on the ground able to use relevant languages when meeting producers. A key challenge facing this small co-operative is the lack of any electricity at the main processing site or within the surrounding communities. This is something they hope to be able to invest in should Fairtrade premium funds permit. Fairtrade premiums have so far been used to provide piped water to the central facility. More info about this co-operative will be displayed on the AFN website; we’re still set to launch this in July, keep looking out for it!

Amos with the General Manager and Assistant General Manager of Kaliluni