FTF Commentary: The Credit Crisis and Fair Trade – possible consequences for producers, wholesalers and retailers

A string of financial problems within the US and world economy, triggered by a US housing crisis, have arisen in 2008. The question becomes how may these global problems manifest themselves within the Fair Trade world? When it seems that sales are solid – and many fair trade businesses are continuing to outshine the others on Main Street – why should we be concerned?

As the credit crunch lurches towards a full blown crisis, we need to ask ourselves if this credit will be available in 2009 and, if not, how we can continue to function and maintain our values as Fair Traders? It is very likely that credit will be much harder to find and that even existing lines of credit may be withdrawn. How will this situation affect Fair Trade?

Below, the Federation has put together some thinking on the possible credit crisis with advice for wholesalers, producers, and retailers. Conversation, discussion, advice, information sharing, and other types of involvement are encouraged.

Members can download this document here.
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Party At The Palace

The following is from Andrea Wilkinson’s travel blog.

Do you know what the Swazi’s definitely know how to do well?

Party!

They have a whole range of festivals throughout the year. One of the most sacred is the Incwala. This is the first fruits ceremony, where the king gives permission for his people to eat the new crops of that year.

But I was here for the almighty Reed Festival.

Earlier this week I saw hundreds of girls on their way to the Queens Mother’s house for the beginning of the week-long dance off. And now I find myself at the centre of it all….

After a morning of meetings with two fair trade businesses I arrived at the Royal Residence.

There is a buzz of excitement in the air as 60,000 maidens from across the country carry their reeds to the Palace to repair the Queen Mother’s home.

Standing right in front of me, tens of thousands of girls are singing and dancing as they make their way. I stand in awe. I can honestly say that I have never seen anything quite like it.

I walk along and soon I’m drawn into the crowd. We chat and sing and walk and it feels like the most natural thing in the world.

There is a group of girls from the Mahlangatsha region located to the west of Swaziland. They told me about their experience of the Reed Dance.

Every young unmarried girl has to attend otherwise they pay a fine of one cow to the king. They tell me about the song and dance they have been preparing and how far they walked to collect the reeds. I admire their strength and enthusiasm. Continue reading

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Looking for Fair Trade Producers in Colombia

The following is a Business Development Update by Hugo Villela, Regional Development Executive

I am currently in Fruandes, a Colombian IFAT certified organization in Bogota. My objective is to get a better understanding of Colombia’s current political and economic climate to see if Shared Interest can effectively provide lending for Colombian fair trade organizations.

Bogata has roughly 9 million inhabitants. It is a huge city and getting from one end to the other is a challenge that can take up to 3 hours due to all of the traffic jams they have. Bogata is a modern city with wide avenues (when compared to what we have in Costa Rica). There is also an incredible difference between the northern part of the city and the southern part of the city with one part of the city being rather affluent and the other part being extremely poor.

This is not my first time in Bogata. I worked here in 1998 and 1999 initiating projects for the International Organization for Migrations and a local NGO, Taller de Vida helping internally displaced people (IDPs). As a result I got to see a lot of Bogata while visiting IDP communities. That had been an exciting experience for me, a young professional filled with curiosity and a desire to help Colombia’s disadvantaged people.

Eight years ago, I meet a Colombian girl in Costa Rica, who is now my wife. She came to Costa Rica to escape the situation in Colombia. Finally after all this time, she can now return to her homeland without it being a risk to her life.

That’s it for now from Bogata. I will keep you posted as to the prospects for Shared Interest providing lending to Colombian fair trade producers.

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‘Alternative rich list’ announced

By David Ainsworth, Third Sector Online, 30 September 2008

Not-for-profit recruitment event Forum3 has devised an ‘alternative rich list’, which recognises people whose lives are rich because of what they give rather than their financial wealth.

Forum3 received 90 nominees and 900 votes for the list. The winners are Hugo Villela from cooperative lender Shared Interest, which helps farmers and handicraft makers on the fields in Costa Rica to get financial support to bring their goods to market; former homeless addict Martin Murphy, now life skills coordinator for homelessness charity the House of St Barnabas; and Nicky Pendleton, co-founder of Canine Partners, which provides dogs to assist wheelchair users.

“With the alternative rich list we recognise those people in society whose wealth is not defined by pounds and pence but by the way they have enriched other people’s lives,” said Debbie Hockham, director of Forum3. “These are the real heroes of society.”

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The Frog Chorus

The following is from Andrea Wilkinson’s travel blog.

After a long day, I was ready for a nice hot shower and an early night!

But I arrived at my B&B to discover that – yet again – there was no electricity.

Hunting for my torch (essential for anyone travelling to Swaziland) I also located the candles and jumped in the shower – at least there was water!

I then attempted to read for a bit by candlelight and was about to go to sleep when I heard the nightly choir outside my window.

Now I have to say that birds and bugs singing is one of the nicest sounds in the world when you step off a plane, but at night when all you want to do is sleep, the novelty soon wears off!

I have managed to get used to the grasshoppers, cockroaches and other vocal insects that seem to enjoy serenading me, but the frogs? Arhhhhh the frogs I cannot drown out.

They are the loudest of the group, the lead singers and they never seem to stop for breath! They are spurred on by their backup band (grasshoppers et al) and always seem to reach a crescendo just as I am about to nod off!

Just as this thought was crossing my mind I heard a thud coming from my bathroom.

I didn’t think anything of it. It was really windy outside so I presumed that something had blown over….that was until I saw something hopping through my room.

The frogs had now decided to take up residence.

Luckily for me, just at that moment the electricity came back on. So I found the kind security guard making himself a snack and asked if he would help me catch Frank (the frog).

The next thing I knew he pulled out a fork from the kitchen draw.

I looked at him in horror; I mean I wanted him to catch it, not hunt it down and kill it!

It turns out that we had a slight misunderstanding; he thought I was asking to borrow a fork!

Phew!

We looked everywhere and eventually found Frank hiding under my bed!

But unfortunately, I’d found the only security guard in Africa who is afraid of frogs.

So once we guided the frog towards the door (me with the broom and the security guard standing in fear on my bed) we released Frank back out into the wild!

Peace at last!

Until another one jumped in (bearing in mind the ledge is 5ft, how high can these frogs jump???)
I looked everywhere for Freddy (Frank’s brother perhaps?) In the shower, under the bed, but it seems it was a room for two tonight!

And it wasn’t long before the live duet commenced.

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Shared Interest / Fair Trade Business Development Report – Africa

The following is a weekly report from Rachel Ngondo, Market Development Executive – E. Africa.

There is always something new I learn from producers with whom I work and I’m always in awe of how much impact Shared Interest and Fair Trade make in their lives. Last week I told you about the Namayiana Maasai women’s group whose officials I met with at my office. I had the opportunity to visit them right in their village where they make all those wonderful beaded products. Did you know that it takes a skilled woman two weeks to make one necklace? And that every Maasai man must give this to his bride otherwise she would not go home with him?

These beautiful cultural items have become an important livelihood for the 112 member women’s group I visited. It took me about 1 hr to drive to the village not because of the distance but the state of the road. I arrived to find 50 women seated under trees at their centre working on beautiful earring samples for an order for Ten Thousand Villages (TTV).

These women walk for 4 hours to and from the center every week where they collect orders and deliver products they have made. It was encouraging to see how happy they were to be a part of the group. You see the Maasai do not till the land and they rely on their livestock for their livelihood. During the dry season, they get into problems because their livestock do not yield enough milk or die altogether leaving them with nothing.

From the group the women have regular orders from different buyers and they are able to earn a monthly salary like you and me. None of the women in the group have ever gone to school yet they are taking their children to school!

Apart from the Maasai women, I have had discussions with Tenses Africa, who are Macadamia nut producers based in Thika. They work with producers in central Kenya and the Coast of Kenya , actually in my ancestral home district. They are a subsidiary company of the Integral group which is a member of the International Fair Trade Association from Slovakia. This producer needs money to buy the nuts from the farmers association. Macademia had been a high value product in Kenya for some years, but unscrupulous middle men caused the market to crash after they delivered low quality to buyers. Today the industry is picking up and is very cautious about quality. Farmers are forming themselves into associations to take advantage of the new developments and markets. It will be an interesting project to work with.

Ok I am off now. Have a lovely weekend.

Cheers,

Rachel

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Fundraising reaches the Peaks

Ever considered climbing Africa’s highest peak in the middle of winter? Shared Interest’s Andrea Wilkinson and Neil Stoker are doing just that next February in aid of the Foundation.

They will tackle Kilimanjaro’s snow capped peaks, towering over 6,000 metres high. The highest freestanding mountain in the world, it is created from three volcanoes: Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira in order to raise over £3,000 to support the Foundation’s next training project in Swaziland Andrea said: “Thankfully the volcanoes have been dormant now for centuries but the landscape still offers up quite a few challenges.”

Beginning in the rainforest at the base of the mountain, where elephants, buffalos and monkeys co-exist, Andrea and Neil will then grapple with the rock and ice zone to make a steady approach towards the summit.

Andrea continued: “We’re looking forward to the panoramic views achieved from the peak of the mountain to keep us going. The climb will be tough, especially with it being only a few weeks after Christmas but I’m sure the stunning scenery of the Maasai Mara seen from the higest point on the African continent will make it all worthwhile.

If you would like to sponsor Andrea and Neil’s intrepid journey, please log onto http://www.justgiving.com/andreawilkinson-kilimanjaro or send a cheque made payable to Shared Interest Foundation to – Shared Interest, No. 2 Cathedral Square, Groat Market, NE1 1EH.

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Spreading Awareness of Fair Trade

Working with partners in Africa and supporters in the UK we are identifying and assisting producer groups who can directly benefit from engaging with fair trade networks.

By the time you read this, Shared Interest Foundation Project Leader Andrea Wilkinson will have travelled from Newcastle to Johannesburg to Swaziland, Mpumalanga, Cape Town and back again!

Recording her experiences with a regional newspaper’s blogging site as with the Rwanda trip, Andrea will share her journey with thousands of people across the world.

Starting off in Johannesburg, she will attend the largest trade exhibition in the southern hemisphere before heading off to Swaziland to analyse the needs of eleven fair trade businesses as well as visiting potential new partners.

While there, Andrea will visit Eswatini Kitchen, the very same project that captured the imagination of Foundation supporter Robin Tyler. Staffed entirely by local women from disadvantaged backgrounds, the company buys all its fruit and vegetables from approximately 400 local rural farmers and growers. This includes small scale farmers and women who pick the wild marula, guava, lemons and chillies growing abundantly in Swaziland.

Andrea said: “The benefits of this trip are tenfold. Not only will I get to meet with a variety of South African fair trade organisations and explore new working opportunities but I will also visit projects like Eswatini in Swaziland and the Legends Project in Mpumalanga to see how our funds are being used.”
Moving on to Cape Town from there, Andrea will carry out a several training sessions for staff and producers on fair trade awareness and the work of Shared Interest. Andrea continued: “This is a great opportunity to see the impact of donations and feed this back to our supporters.”

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Exchanging your Life for a Day

The following is from Andrea Wilkinson’s travel blog.

As I drive for two hours high up into the mountains to visit a remote producer group called Tinsaba, I already know that it’s going to be a great day.

Through the early morning mist, children sing and wave on their way to collect water and cows clearly rule the road! I am forced to stop on several occasions to avoid them.

I turn off onto a dirt track to find the group (praying that this is the right dirt track. There are many and no sign posts.) I drive for about 30 minutes deep into the bush only to discover that it clearly isn’t. With thick bush-land at either side of me, I can’t turn so all I can do is reverse!

Not a 4×4 by any means, my affectionately named ‘Harris’ the Yaris, revved up but got stuck down a pot hole.

I finally made it out to glimpse a bush baby darting past. Quite a journey! Making my way into the right part of the national park, I heard the female staff before I saw them.

I spent the day with this inspirational group of ladies who sang merrily while they worked, learning about how they make the intricate baskets, jewellery and handcrafted items that signify their culture and traditions. Continue reading

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The Power of Positive Thought….

The following is from Andrea Wilkinson’s travel blog.

…is not enough to restart my Internet connection. I write this between a series of power cuts that I’ve been blighted with most of the weekend. This is nothing too unusual for Swaziland as the break in electricity is as common here as it is in Rwanda, but still, slightly annoying when you want to make connections with the outside world. I’m typing this furiously before the next cut inevitably strikes before I get it live….Think I’ll just about make it…. Will be in touch again soon when the blackouts become less regular!

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