BBC shares an interest in Swaziland

As Shared Interest Foundation gears up to begin its Comic Relief funded project in Swaziland the country has received some press attention from the BBC. The organisation has invited comment on the state of the nation’s political system.

The debate can be found here, http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/africahaveyoursay/2010/09/should-swaziland-change.shtml

What do you think? Is it even our place to comment? We would love to hear your thoughts….

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A day in the life of a Fairtrade banana

It took a little more effort than clicking my heels three times but I am firmly back in the UK after an epic week in Ecuador. Now that I’m back and recovered from my jet lag I am able to reflect properly on my week away. It was definitely an experience to remember although it was NOTHING like I expected it to be. We stayed mostly within cities where our accommodation was based, although we travelled out into more remote areas to meet with potential customers. Currently Shared Interest does not lend in Ecuador so the trip was almost a fact-finding mission to learn more about the country and the products it exports.

I mentioned cocoa in my last blog post; the second half of our week was all about bananas. Seriously. I have never seen so many bananas in my life and don’t think I ever will again. They were everywhere, you couldn’t drive anywhere without banana plantations lining the roads, it really was incredible to see.

I think it is fair to say that prior to my trip I was completely unaware of the extensive cultivation process that the humble banana has to go through. In fact the process is such hard work that once they have been cut from the stalk bananas officially become stressed! They only ‘chill out’ once they are in the controlled environment of the ship’s hold. To be honest though if I was suddenly picked up, washed and packed into a box I imagine I would be pretty stressed too.

The thing that struck me most about the banana production process was the extensive quality control that the fruit had to go through. As soon as it is picked the unusable fruit starts to be discarded. It turns out that in the UK we are quite a fussy bunch (sorry I can’t resist the banana puns). There can be no marks or bruising on the skin. In addition the fruit must meet minimum weight and length requirements. Whilst this may seem fairly standard the reality of this really hit home when we visited one co-operative, El Guabo’s packing warehouse. Bananas are brought into the warehouse all packed up and ready to go, a few boxes from each producer are taken off for random testing. The size, weight and appearance are judged, numbers are crunched and the producer’s offerings are given an average score. If this score is below 80 the entire truck load of fruit is sent back to the farmer, it won’t even be considered for export. This seemed incredibly harsh, especially after we’d seen the whole process from start to finish and seen how much work goes into the production process. Maybe we should stop being so fussy but I suppose that this quality control system comes into play whatever the commodity. One thing I do know for sure, I’ll never look at a banana the same way again!

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Namayiana - Fair Trade Producer Visit Click here to learn how you can invest in fair trade.

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Hola!

Greetings from Guayaquil, Ecuador.

I left the UK on Saturday to meet Paul Sablich from our Peru office and Elisabeth Wilson, Shared Interest’s Business Development Manager.  It was a pretty epic journey, taking me 22 hours in total but most definitely worth it.

So far we have been ultra busy.  Over each of the past two days we have travelled 50 minutes or so to a nearby potential customer. The co-operative is interested in working with Shared Interest so Paul and Elisabeth have been going through the standard due diligence procedure. As this has all been in Spanish, I have had limited input but thanks to Elisabeth’s translations I have been kept up to speed with what’s going on. Plus there has been an abundance of chocolate tasting so I am certainly familiar with the final product!

In addition to the meetings we have travelled out to meet some of the co-operative members where we were shown round their land and told about the cocoa and how it grows.  It was incredibly interesting and it was useful to be able to compare the farms with less technologically developed ones nearby.

Inevitably, visiting the farms meant more tasting. For those of you who have never seen a cocoa plant – I certainly hadn’t – the pod is cracked open to reveal the contained cocoa seeds which are coated in an edible sweet, sticky substance. We were able to try this in the field; it tasted amazing and was an experience to remember.

Of course, it would be impossible to talk about this trip without mentioning Maria Rosa, who has been invaluable to us.

Maria Rosa is actually the mother of our Account Manager for Latin America, Maria Hall. Maria Rosa has been fantastic; she picked us all up from the airport, took us sightseeing and even helped us change hotels. She has been great to have around and I am looking forward to seeing her again on Saturday once we return to Guayaquil.

Tonight we are having dinner with a coffee producer who will soon be FLO registered so Paul is keen to develop a relationship with them.  Following that it’s off to bed as the ever keen Paul has booked us on a very early bus down to Machala which is about three hours south of where we are now. Once there we are going to meet up with a number of banana producers that we hope to be able to work with and diversify Shared Interest’s commodity range. I am really looking forward to travelling south and seeing some more of the country; that is if I don’t succumb to all my mosquito bites!

Hopefully I’ll be able to blog again from Machala to tell you all about banana production as it sounds fascinating.  I’ll give you a taster:  when Paul was telling me about the process he ended with “…and then you kill the mother.”  Eeeek, see you on the other side!

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Fair Trade Past, Present and Futures…

I joined Shared Interest as an Account Manager in February 2005, despite recently being promoted to Credit and Services Manager I still work closely with our customers in North America.

Maintaining and developing relationships is obviously central to the Customer Service Team’s objectives. With this in mind Rachel Abel our Account Manager for North / Latin America and I are busy preparing for a trip to North America to meet with our buyer customers Oxfam Quebec, GoGo Quinoa, Ten Thousand Villages Canada, Ten Thousand Villages USA, La Siembra, Equal Exchange Inc and SERRV.

As if that wasn’t enough to cram into two weeks we are also planning to attend the Fair Trade Futures conference in Boston.

The conference is being billed as the largest fair trade conference in North American history so we are looking forward to being part of the event which will see more than 750 entrepreneurs, students, activists, and other interested individuals come together to discuss all things fair trade. Hopefully this will be a great learning opportunity as well as a chance to meet some potential new customers.

Our trip starts in Quebec, from there we will travel south trough Canada and down into the United States. With all the travelling, the meetings and of course the conference, I doubt there will be much time to update you whilst we are away but we’ll do our best to let you know how we got on once we get back. See you then!

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What Do You Mean I Don’t Work For Shared Interest?!?

After six years of working for Shared Interest, it’s time to move on to pastures new.

What can I say to summarise my time at SI? So much has happened.

When I got the job of Customer Services Team Leader back in 2004, there were only around a dozen staff working out of the 3rd and 4th floors in the Collingwood Street office. I’d never heard of Shared Interest before then and I couldn’t believe what was right on my doorstep the whole time; a local company with the sole aim of helping disadvantaged communities around the world. I might even get the chance to put my French and Spanish skills to good use.

It was a steep learning curve what with the ins and outs of fair trade to get to grips with, international development issues as well as the varying producer needs. I am pleased to say that in six years I haven’t stopped learning.

Shared Interest has grown so much in so many ways. Staff numbers have doubled, we have 3 overseas offices in Nairobi, Costa Rica and Lima and the Shared Interest Foundation has gone from strength to strength.

When I started I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to represent Shared Interest at the IFAT conference in Ecuador; meeting and speaking to producer groups we worked with face to face. Or that I would have a change of career and move into HR and complete a post graduate diploma. Even more surprising was that I became au fait with social accounts having never heard the term before working for SI! I am really pleased I got to work with staff from our overseas offices and be part of something amazing that makes real changes to the lives of people who need it most.

My husband often jokes with me when we meet new people that he’ll give me three minutes before I mentioned SI. Well that’s what it does to you, working somewhere like SI, you can’t wait to tell everyone what you do and what difference we make to so many people. I’m sure that feeling won’t leave me for a long time although I must remember that I don’t actually work here anymore! I will of course make sure I keep up to date with developments at SI with a keen interest and you never know I might just become a Welsh based ambassador.

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Namayiana - Fair Trade Producer Visit Click here to learn how you can invest in fair trade.

Click here to donate to the Shared Interest Foundation
Mexican coffee farmer at work in the fields


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