An informal settlement experience

By Account Manager (Africa) Rita Musyimi

Approximately 25% of Nairobi’s population lives in the informal settlements, also known as slums. Most of the people moved from their rural homes in search of job opportunities in the city. However these jobs proved elusive and they found themselves living here. Even so an entrepreneurial spirit is ever present in these settlements. There are money making opportunities that could be leveraged to increase economic activities and strengthen the communities. Private social enterprises have come to the rescue of these communities. As a social lender Shared Interest falls under this ‘’rescue team’’. On day three, we visited an existing handicrafts producer and a potential new customer based in these settlements. In the former case opening up a line of credit for the producer has meant that they have stayed in business for several years and grown their business to compete globally. In the latter case, recycling and reusing of materials was the mainstay of their operations. The youth involved were not only working on a project that is eco-friendly they were also carving out a decent living. The quality of the products produced right in the middle of an informal settlement where ventilation is a big problem is amazing. From this seemingly nonplussed environment the youth do have a computer and internet connection. It is also clear that their customer care standards are unrivalled by most big companies. It is difficult to fathom the source of these quality products especially when you see them displayed in exclusive stores in Nairobi. With a little bit of help, with better ventilated premises, these youth can do wonders.

Youth and Ingenuity 

Some of the producers visited in Nairobi and its environs were quite young. They are using their creativity and innovation to earn a decent living. How do you fancy running a business in the shell of an old bus? Yes, a potential customer is doing just that. There are two such bus shells on their premises. After the bus company decommissioned these buses the young man and his family moved them to a rented location in the outskirts of Nairobi. He saw an opportunity in them and created an ‘office’ and ‘factory’ from them. He also does not pay for some of the raw materials. Overgrown bamboo trees are a nuisance to a nearby school as they are a breeding ground for snakes. This man offers to cut them down. The school is happy to have this done for free. For this young man the bamboo is used to create wonderful gift items. When not using bamboos, they prune overgrown branches from cypress and jacaranda trees in the compound and surroundings. What he saves in the bamboo, he has to pay for the pruned cypress and jacaranda.

Brace yourself for the location of his board meetings. This is where we were invited to discuss all matters financial. It is right under a tree shade and the seats are tree stumps carved out to make a very comfortable sitting area. With such ingenuity it would be unfair of me to ask how he makes his power point presentations. I reckon he would provide another very innovative answer. Actually, wasn’t his power point the whole tour from bus to tree? Successful and environmentally sustainable businesses are made of stuff like this, we can all agree.

Moving on to another producer…How do you provide quality assurance training to women who have minimal or no formal education? It is happening right in the heart of Maasai land. The two educated project managers tailor the training around the practical things that the women do on a daily basis, like buying lessos (clothing used by the Maasai).  Lessons on quality are derived from this. No written manuals (they can’t read them in any case) and the associated costs. Talk about keeping costs at a minimum, how clever is that!

Matters personal 

In between and at the end of the official trip are two weekends. This is time well spent with family and friends

As the trip comes to an end, I recap the whole experience and realise that indeed I soaked it all in very well. And yes, I remember some more words of the song:

‘’My Land is Kenya

So warm, wild and free

You’ll always stay with me

Deep in my heart, deep in my heart’’

 As I return to my adopted home in Newcastle, I say Kwaheri ya kuonana (So long) to ‘Enkare Nyirobi’*

*The name “Nairobi” comes from the Maasai phrase Enkare Nyirobi, which translates to “the place of cool waters”.

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All in a day’s work

By Account Manager (Africa) Rita Musyimi

Day two and we literally hit the road running with the work. After lunch we proceeded to our first meeting with a social lender based in Nairobi. It is amazing the spirit of social lenders in ensuring that no producer is driven out of business. This meeting was all about what both Shared Interest and this lender could do to ensure the producer under discussion remained afloat in business. After some negotiations and consultation with Andrew Ridley, our Credit and Services Manager in Newcastle, a win-win situation was reached and happily the producer is still in business.

In contrast to Newcastle which was still quite cold when we left, the temperature was really high in Nairobi, at least 260C or more. Lots of water intake kept us from getting dehydrated.

The only producer I visited away from Nairobi is based in Eldoret in the Rift Valley Province. The name Eldoret is derived from the Maasai word ‘eldore’ meaning ‘stony river’ because the bed of nearby Sosiani River is very stony. The white settlers decided to call it Eldoret to make it easier for them to pronounce it. It lies approximately 2,300m above sea level. It is one of Kenya’s bread baskets with the major crops being wheat, pyrethrum and maize. For cheese lovers, the Doinyo Lessos Creameries Cheese Factory produces about 30 types of cheese, as well as ice-cream and yoghurt. The town is home to some of Kenya’s renowned international athletes. It also houses a university and teaching hospital in Kenya, a polytechnic and textile factory.

The town has a number of factories, one of which I visited on my second day in Kenya. Well, only this time it was not a factory processing wheat, pyrethrum or cheese but one which handles a produce that is as small as it is little known – bird’s eye chillies. The chillies are so named both due to their small round shape and because they are widely spread by birds. They are a perennial plant that can be harvested all year round. The fruit (yes, fruit not vegetable) of the bird’s eye chilli is popularly used as a spice and chilli condiment in oriental cuisine. Next time you enjoy the fiery zing of an oriental dish, think bird’s eye chillies. Oh and in medicine the bird’s eye chillies were traditionally used to ease arthritis and rheumatism and also as a cure for toothache and, erm flatulence.  It was also used as a natural insect repellent when mixed with water. Woe unto you if after applying the insect repellent mix, you then went ahead and rubbed your eyes.

After providing a general overview of the business, a very enthusiastic Operations Director took me on a tour of the factory where the chillies are processed into powder form before packing for export. I was clad in mouth guard, head gear and dust coat. Despite all this health and safety armour, I still suffered stinging eyes, an irritated throat and incessant sneezing and coughing. A real test to the strength of my lungs, but I survived the tour. I wondered though about the toughness of the workers in this factory, who work there daily without all of these safety measures. I was informed that with time one gets used to the conditions.

While a 40-minute flight got me comfortably to Eldoret, travel by road was a different matter. Two visits to chillies farmers were scheduled. We managed to visit one farmer approximately 40 kilometres away in Soy area. Despite the use of a 4-wheel drive vehicle, the ride was bumpy and rough and took at least one hour. Didn’t the taxi driver in Nairobi tell me the roads would be brought up to the standards in the West? This is definitely one of the counties that will have to work extremely hard to get investors and resources to fix the roads here to the standards aforementioned. Needless to say half way through the journey to the second farmer, the trip was suspended. We had to factor in another bumpy ride back and check in time for my flight back to Nairobi. We managed to get to the airport at least one hour before departure, heart in mouth for fear of missing the last and only flight back to Nairobi.

All in all, the producer works with these challenging circumstances. The field extension workers have to contend with these rough roads on a daily basis as they make their way to the farmers using motor cycles. After such gruelling trips they sometimes find that the farmers are not tending or have not harvested the chillies. I learnt that due to the high potential nature of the agricultural land in Eldoret, the farmers here do not like to farm chillies as it is considered a ‘poor man’s crop’. Therefore the extension workers have to go farther afield to reach farmers in lower agricultural potential areas. This costs the producer that much more in terms of time and money. Not to mention, the shipments sometimes get routed in the wrong direction. This particular producer had just received news that a shipment they sent to Germany had somehow managed to find its way to a port in Iran!

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My Land is Kenya

By Account Manager (Africa) Rita Musyimi

I recently returned from a trip to Kenya. This was more than just work for me as it gave me the opportunity to return home and visit friends and family. Over the next three days I will attempt to bring you a taste of my trip, sharing my experiences.

Going back to my roots and to my producers

Days before the planned trip I found myself packed and ready to go. As I packed my bags I couldn’t help but sing Roger Whittaker’s song:

‘‘My Land is Kenya, Right from the highlands to the sea…’’

Never mind that I couldn’t remember most of the words. I ended up humming it instead. I beg your indulgence for this kind of excitement, but then again it has been a long time since I was home. Coupled with the fact that I will be meeting my producers for the first time. This time round I will only visit producers in Kenya. During this trip I am in the secure company of my colleague, Elisabeth Wilson.

The long awaited trip finally came to fruition on 23rd March. It was not without a certain amount of angst that I looked forward to the aircraft landing at the main airport of my homeland. The events that characterised this country in the last three years include skewed elections and a near-genocide crisis that ensued, a political power sharing agreement, a referendum, a new constitution, pro-market reforms and economic growth. I find myself thinking about the talk about restoring our national unity that has been the discourse in recent times and wonder if it is indeed true that the situation has gone back to what I remember it to have been as a child, secure and with a heritage of splendour.

I had been warned that I probably would not recognise some of the erstwhile familiar roads in Nairobi. What with all the infrastructural works going on. That became apparent as we drove from the airport to the hotel. The taxi driver wondered where I had been while all the work on the infrastructure was on-going. You do feel rather silly when such a question is posed to you. This is home after all and I should be up to speed with all this information. However there is a fine line between what you read in the press, hear from family and friends, and the reality of experiencing it first-hand. I could not help but wonder how I would soak in the whole experience during the following days.

‘’When these road works are completed the towns will have a completely new face with very modern highways just like the ones where you have come from’’, the driver added in Swahili with pride. He probably would have wanted to add that with the new constitution, government will be established and resources devolved at county levels, meaning expansion of opportunities for job creation and for small businesses not just in the major towns but countrywide. I suppose against his better judgement he decided to keep that information to himself. Nevertheless I could sense the great strides made during my absence. It all began to come back to me: ‘’Kenya Vision 2030 – towards a globally competitive and prosperous nation’’.

Rachel Ngondo, our Business Development colleague in Nairobi came to the hotel the following morning to take us to the office. Up until now I had only communicated with Rachel via email and telephone so a first time meeting was a special encounter. She is as warm as she sounds on telephone. We chatted like old friends at a school reunion. Later at the office Elisabeth and I were introduced to Kennedy Mwasi, our new colleague in the Nairobi office, whose genteel manner is refreshing. We also got introduced to and met the rest of the fair trade fraternity who share office premises with Shared Interest in Nairobi.

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Budget Post Mortem

So how do you feel about today’s budget?

 There are no huge surprises but it is pleasing to see that the 1p fuel duty rise suggested by labour has been scrapped.  With the ongoing unrest in the Middle East affecting the UK’s fuel supply, fuel prices have remained an increasing concern, especially for SMEs.  At Shared Interest, we encourage our staff to travel into our city centre office on public transport and the majority do.  Our function in the fair trade movement doesn’t require the shipping of goods but many of our buyer customers would have been affected by a further rise in the cost of fuel, and will be relieved to see the fuel duty stabiliser kicking in. 

I am also interested to see that £2bn in extra funding has been allocated to the development of the Green Investment Bank, to launch in 2012.  This was something that was mooted in last year’s budget but what followed were differences in opinion over what powers the bank should have.  Shared Interest is proud to hear that the UK is widely regarded as a leader in green financial services.  Many of our own investors come to us because they would rather their money was being lent to businesses in the developing world than sitting in a UK bank account.  Those who decide to get involved with the Green Investment Bank will benefit from a similar social return in knowing that they are investing in a low-carbon infrastructure such as renewable energy and the development of new, clean technologies.

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Budget Predictions…

As we all wait with bated breath for today’s Budget results, at Shared Interest we would be hoping for various aspects of change (in an ideal world.)  One of them is around VAT.

Following the increased standard rate of VAT from 17.5% to 20% on 4 January this year, there have been suggestions that this may only be a temporary increase and that a commitment should be made to bring VAT down again at some point in the future.

 I think this is probably unlikely, and whilst for consumers this inevitably means price increases, we are hoping to see sales of Fairtrade goods continuing to grow past the £1bn barrier as British consumers continue to put their ethics first.  Still, for businesses generally, rising VAT doesn’t always have a direct impact as they are in effect just collecting net VAT for the Government.  However, because we lend money to fair trade businesses in the developing world, we cannot charge VAT to our customers.  This in turn means that we cannot recover the VAT we pay our suppliers back in the UK.  As an increase in VAT affects us on both sides, it would be good to see the possible decrease some have predicted.  Not long to wait now until all is revealed….

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“Unique coffee with a fantastic back story”

I think it’s safe to assume that everyone knows it is Red Nose Day tomorrow. I am also pretty confident that the majority of the UK is aware that Fairtrade coffee is available at most major supermarkets, including Aldi, as announced during Fairtrade Fortnight.

What even the most Fairtrade savvy amongst you might not realise however, is that in addition to selling Red Nose paraphernalia, Sainsbury’s has gone the extra mile this year in its efforts to support Comic Relief and indeed Fairtrade.

The supermarket is working with Twin Trading in an attempt to rejuvenate the coffee industry in two African countries by releasing a new limited edition Fairtrade coffee for Red Nose Day. This will see the first high quality coffee from the war torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) available in the mainstream market since the 1960s. The coffee is a blend of beans from the Sopacdi co-operative in DRC and the Mzuzu co-operative in Malawi, creating a unique Fairtrade coffee blend. In addition to the usual benefits that the Fairtrade Mark bring to producer groups, at least 30p per pack will be donated to Comic Relief.

Both co-operatives face huge barriers in accessing markets for their product. Every year in the Lake Kivu region of DRC around 1,000 people die as they attempt to swim – with their coffee -illegally across Lake Kivu into Rwanda in search of higher prices.

The Mzuzu co-operative face different challenges, their current farming system is vulnerable to changing climatic conditions and is overly dependent on expensive inorganic fertilizers. To secure the quality and increase the yields of this coffee in the long term, Mzuzu farmers are developing more sustainable production systems.

Liz Jarman, Sainsbury’s head of Fairtrade, said: “This is a unique coffee with a fantastic back story. By buying it, customers will not only get a great coffee, they can also feel satisfied that they doing their bit to help lift two of the world’s poorest countries out of poverty.

“The coffee will make a very real difference to farmers in these countries, and should help prevent many farmers dying in an effort to find more lucrative markets for their coffee.”

Twin Trading have collaborated on the project providing expertise in developing smallholder commodity supply chains. Twin has worked with both co-operatives to develop the supply chain and build local capability in agronomy, management and coffee exporting. Ian Barney, Twin’s Managing Director, said: “We are delighted about the launch of this coffee and the profile it gives smallholder producers in both regions. We have been working closely with producers in both countries and know how much pride they take in their coffee. This is an important milestone for the farmers and communities of Sopacdi and Mzuzu and will put quality coffee from both regions on the map.”

Shared Interest’s Managing Director, Patricia Alexander added: “This product really reflects the mission of Shared Interest to help producers working in severely disadvantaged circumstances. It’s great to see the additional contribution to Comic Relief as the organisation supports Shared Interest Foundation as well as other significant projects across Africa.”

The coffee is available in Sainsbury’s now so next time you’re in don’t forget to pick up a bag and as always, let us know what you think!

Red Nose Day Coffee

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Shared Interest Foundation on BBC Newcastle Radio

Today I had my second experience of being interviewed live on radio. My first was in Rwanda during the launch of the Foundation’s Rwandan Producer Support Project and I was dubbed into Kinyarwanda by a man…so I’m not sure if that experience counts?!

Today, however, it was definitely my voice that was heard as I proudly promoted the Foundation’s largest project to date.

As you may be aware, late last year the Foundation was awarded over half a million pounds from Comic Relief, for our Swaziland Craft Development Project. During my interview with Simon Logan, I told North East listeners about the project in an attempt to show where the funds generated by Comic Relief actually go within the region.

In our case their money is transported into the heart of Africa, to Swaziland a small country located in the south of the continent. Swaziland, unheard of by many, has a population of 1 million people and has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world.

Simon challenged me over the old saying “charity begins at home”, asking why we should support international causes. Here at Shared Interest Foundation, we believe that we live in a global community. All of the craft makers and farmers that we work with in Swaziland don’t have a social welfare system, free education or health care, as we do in the UK. We are working to ensure that the craft makers we work with have access to basic human rights, every pound that you donate, helps charities like us, get a step closer to securing this reality for thousands of individuals across Africa.

Our project in Rwanda – check out the archive if you haven’t heard about it – had led to a 35% increase in income for the groups we worked with we aim to expand and replicate this training project in Swaziland. We will work with 130 businesses, training them in business and financial skills, market access, product development and HIV/AIDS in the workplace.

We have already started to set up our new office in Swaziland and our new Project Manager, Pablo has been extremely busy signing up the businesses that are to take part in the project.

If you would like to hear more about this project or find out how you can support us please either email andrea.wilkinson@shared-interest.com or call 0191 233 9129.

Please click here and fast forward to 2:08 to hear me on Newcastle Radio.

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Chocolate is Leading the Way

As the second largest producer of coca in the world, Peru has a long and violent history of drug production and trafficking. Thanks to the United Nation’s Alternative Development Programme (ADP) which works closely with the Government and farmers to provide viable alternatives to coca bush cultivation, the San Martín region of Peru has made the move into cacao production and as a result cacao exports are now up 400%, putting Peru close to the top ten biggest producers in the world.

A great example of a recent success story is one of Shared Interest’s customers, Tocache, who have emerged victorious from Salon du Chocolat in Paris. This prestigious annual summit of the world’s master choclatiers, saw the small cocoa co-operative’s produce named the most aromatic in the world. Elena Rios, secretary of Tocache said: “The area used to be known for making cocaine paste, but now we are known for chocolate.” Elena gave up growing coca leaves 10 years ago, opting to take part in a program to replace her plants with cacao. “There were only 12 of us when we started; now we have hundreds. Our success is contagious. No one wants to grow coca. Everyone is thinking about chocolate.”

Acropargo Team

Elsewhere in the region, Acopagro, Peru’s main cacao exporter continues to thrive. Established in 1997 under the ADP, the organisation now boasts over 1,500 members. General Manager, Gonzola Rios who has been with the co-operative since the beginning says of the cacao producers “Acopagro is a big family, not just a co-operative.” As a result the co-operative has been developing and implementing a variety of different social, environmental and economic projects with the aim of improving the quality of life of their farmers as well as the future of the business. Perhaps most impressive is the Carbon Capture Programme. The scheme currently has over 600 participants and for every tree the farmers plant on their land, they receive 30 cents. The key objectives of the program are to diminish the effects of global warming, protect biodiversity in the region and to generate a sustainable income for the co-operatives’ members for the future.

In addition to the Carbon Capture Program, the co-operative also works with its members to ensure that the right training and financial support are available. Similarly the co-operative encourages diversification and the conservation of ecosystems, including soil erosion and water management schemes. All of this will help to improve the living conditions of members and protect their livelihoods for future generations.

Whilst San Martín still has some coca, cacao farms are taking hold. The U.N Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) talks about a “San Martín Model” as a success story for replacing coca with legal crops, saying: “Chocolate is leading the way and we are proud to see our customers at the forefront of this movement.”

Cocoa Beans

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Shea Determination brings new Lending Product

We are pleased to announce that we have diversified our lending portfolio to include yet another new product. For the first time we have approved a facility for a shea butter buyer. Based in Derbyshire, Akoma UK is a skincare company with a difference. Founder Angus Klufio explains why:

“At Akoma, we choose to do business in a way that benefits everyone involved from the ethical sourcing of raw ingredients to providing all natural skin care and spa products that are of high quality and great value. And in doing so, we’re committed to having a positive impact on emerging economies in the developing world, particularly in Ghana.”

Akoma sources all of its shea butter from the Akoma Co-operative in Ghana, which Angus himself helped to establish. Collecting, processing, and selling shea nuts and shea butter at the Akoma Cooperative in Ghana is an important source of income for women in the community.

Angus continues:
“The workers harvest, gather and prepare the raw ingredients in a way that does not disturb the local ecosystem. Similar co-ops are being developed to provide employment for those who wish to rise up above the abject poverty so common in their villages.”

In addition to setting up the co-operative, Angus was also instrumental in securing the co-operative’s organic and Fairtrade certifications.

As both organisations continue to grow, the Akoma Co-operative plans to renovate the local primary school which is currently dilapidated and incomplete. Over the next five years the groups plan to use their Fairtrade Premium for educational purposes, developing local facilities for children. The aim is to include a library, IT centre, desks and other necessary school equipment. By supporting Angus and Akoma here in the UK, Shared Interest is able to simultaneously support the development of Akoma in Ghana.

Akoma

When describing his work and the motivation behind Akoma, Angus said:
“Akoma represents a new breed of companies that focus on fair prices, good working conditions, sustainability and fair terms of trade.”

He continued: “We have been able to develop some wonderful relationships on our journey to help those who are in developing countries. There is great positivity when we work with organisations such as Shared Interest, who have similar visions as Akoma. They have provided ongoing support for Akoma to grow and develop and share our belief in working towards making a difference in people’s lives.”

Akoma

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International Women’s Day – Women empowerment is working in Rwanda

Today, Rwanda, joins the rest of the world to commemorate International Women’s Day 2011 – an important day on the global calendar, where women are acknowledged for their economic, political and social achievements.

The Rwandan Parliament has the largest number of women in parliament worldwide, which is a major achievement. They have achieved this through national policies aimed at gender equity, ensuring that women play an integral part in the reconciliation and peace process on the country’s road to development, thus illustrating that gender empowerment really works.

However as always there is a lot more to be done, to ensure that this is the case throughout all levels of society not just at the top, and this is exactly what we have been working towards in our Rwandan Producer Support Project.

The project was set up three years ago to work with vulnerable members of society who engage in the craft sector, a large percentage of whom are women. We have been working with 50 businesses in Rwanda (9,000 individuals) that are looking to increase the number of women they employ. Many of the women that we worked with at the start of the project were living on less than a dollar per day. A dollar won’t buy you much in Rwanda for example you can get a loaf of bread, or a few tomatoes and some rice.  It is certainly not enough to afford many of life’s necessities such as basic healthcare, a healthy diet and sending your children to school.

Throughout our project we aimed to raise the income of the women that we work with three-fold and to date I am pleased to report that we have empowered the women to make changes in their businesses, which have led to their income increasing by 35% on average.

This is very much trade not aid. The women have achieved this themselves (with a little support from Shared Interest Foundation) and they are extremely proud of the hard work they have put into making these changes and the impact this has had on their families, enabling their children to attend school. The project is therefore not only educating adults, through our business and financial skills training, but also their children.

The project is coming to a close this year and we would very much like to support more and more Rwandan women. If you would like to help us achieve this goal, please send a cheque payable to Shared Interest Foundation to, Shared Interest Foundation, No. 2 Cathedral Square, Groat Market, NE1 1EH or donate online by clicking here.

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