Fairtrade in Wales

In 2008, just before my foray into the worlds of fair trade and Shared Interest, my soon to be colleagues were helping Wales celebrate receiving the accolade of the first Fair Trade Nation.  In the four years since then a lot has been happening to build on this success.  We may need to watch this space for fair trade daffodils but there is growing support for the fair trade movement in the home of the red dragon.

I recently returned to Wales on a visit to Cardiff to learn more about current activities and plans as well as to catch up with those I’ve met on previous trips.  My first visit was to the fair trade shop, Fairdo’s, where I met the founder and a few of the army of volunteers who help run the shop.  Eagle eyed, I could quickly spot a number of products on the shelves which came from organisations supported by Shared Interest.  Needless to say due to the timing of my trip the fairly traded Valentine’s cards caught my eye too!

My next appointment was with our Shared Interest Ambassadors in the area to give them an update on our new materials and to learn more about their plans for Shared Interest activity in the area.  They will be kick starting things for 2012 with a stall at the upcoming Olive tasting event on the 7th March at Chapter Arts Centre with Zaytoun and Fairdo’s, see our events calendar for more details.  If you would like to know more about volunteering with Shared Interest in Cardiff or anywhere across the UK please visit our Volunteer pages.

Finally I popped in to visit Fair Trade Wales and hear their plans for Fairtrade Fortnight and beyond.  I also got a sneaky peak at a travel cup from the Fairtrade Foundation which was being frequently topped up with fresh Fairtrade coffee.  Fair Trade Wales have worked hard to build on the support which enabled them to achieve Fair Trade Nation status.  From video links with fair trade producers in Ghana to a growing network of Fairtrade schools to hosting fair trade producers over Fairtrade Fortnight the team there are certainly busy bees and I look forward to working with them, and everyone else I met, in the future.

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Handicraft heaven

On my last day, we found ourselves in what I can only describe as ‘handicraft heaven’.  We have recently started working with a buyer in the US but all their handicrafts are procured via women’s groups based in Ghana.  These include clothes for women, children and babies as well as gift and homeware items, all made from batik-work.  There are Christmas decorations made from the typical West African glass beads and many soap products, including the well-known African black soap.  These items are also sold locally in a retail store behind the Koala supermarket.  Whilst one of the directors relocated to Ghana from the US over 10 years ago, much of the work is carried out by volunteers without whom the organisation would be much the poorer.

During the week, I have been introduced to some of the local fayre which is very different to the foods I am used to.  There is Fufu which is either cassava (a root crop like maize) or yam that has been boiled and then pounded and there is also Banku which is a fermented corn dough.  Both are eaten dipped into say an okra stew.  I was advised against them with this being only my first ever trip to West Africa; my colleagues were concerned that I would find them very hard to digest.  Instead I safely, and unadventurously, opted for the chicken and ‘Joloff’ rice which was really very nice.  (This rice is cooked in a type of stew and the word is apparently borrowed from the Wollof dialect of Senegal and Mali).  Throughout my stay I partook of the wonderful fresh fruit and juices; my particular favourite was the local bananas which are small, marked, bruised and full of flavour!

As always, the visit passed very quickly.  That said, it was very worthwhile and we achieved nearly everything we set out to achieve.  John is due to travel to the UK at the end of this month in order to complete his induction programme and to attend our AGM in March.  Thereafter he will return home where he should be able to find further lending opportunities for Shared Interest and more importantly bring benefit to more producer groups in need.

 

 

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Seeing the benefits of our lending

On my second day in Ghana, we went to visit a brand new SI customer.  This group has only recently acquired FLO-certification but for four products: cocoa, chillies, pineapples and sugar.  Most groups only apply for and maintain certification for a single commodity so this will be an interesting one to watch.  Normally we wouldn’t work with such a group as they did not meet one of our principal lending criteria; they didn’t have any export buyers when we approved their facility.  That said they have worked incredibly hard to boost the impact they have on their community and have succeeded in obtaining FLO-certification in order that they might trade their products internationally.  Our raison d’être is to work with the most disadvantaged so we felt we had to find a way of working with this group.  Indeed, within less than a week of us approving their smallish term loan facility, we were delighted to hear that they had succeeded in acquiring agreement from a major fair trade buyer in the UK to buy two types of their chillies packed in oil in glass jars for retail.

Our primary meeting at their headquarters was typically African; it began with a prayer and everyone was invited to comment if they wished to do so.  They all spoke with so much passion and gratitude; it was heart-warming and convinced me that we’d made the right decision to lend to them.  Things have not been easy for the group and at times they have had to take tough decisions and to prioritise due to a lack of funds.  Our funds will be used both to buy seedlings in order to ensure consistent quality product but also to buy a truck to transport their produce for sale, both locally and for export.  Previously, the lack of a truck has forced them to leave product to go to waste as they were simply not able to collect it from the farmers and deliver it for sale.  Not only was the cost of truck-hire very expensive, the drivers were too impatient to wait until the trucks were full which was of course inefficient and frustrating.

On our third day, we escaped from Accra into the countryside surrounding Akosombo.  We were visiting an existing pineapple customer on behalf of some of our colleagues as we wished to know how the harvest was progressing.  We met with all but one of the employees and had a brief meeting in the office before heading off towards the farm, stopping for some of the most amazing tilapia I’d ever tasted en route.

This group has delivered masses of social impact to the community.  Not only do they now have electricity pylons on the peninsula which they didn’t have prior to the creation of the group but they also opened a school in 2006; it is much nearer to the village meaning that the children have less far to walk along the very dusty tracks.  They also receive donations via a 1 cent/kg deduction in Europe on each box of fruit and this is spent on books and blackboards.  Lastly the Fairtrade premium that they earned in 2011 will be used for loans to members for both educational and vocational training.  This was agreed by the members at their AGM last September. 

The group was particularly badly affected in 2010 when Lake Volta flooded.  Whilst some of the water has now receded, the level of the lake is much higher than it used to be and it has devastated 8-10 hectares of the farm.  However the farm was not at full capacity so new acreage has been planted with rotational crops to bring year-round produce; the only problem is that the suckers take 12 months to mature.  Unfortunately some of the farmers chose to leave the group as they feared for its long-term sustainability following the flood but new entrants are now actively being encouraged to join.  

The intention here was that our monies (in the form of a term loan) were to be used to buy farming infrastructure and a truck.  We not only achieved this but we were also able to fund the relocation inland of their new electricity pylons when they were submerged by the flooding.  Likewise they were able to buy a mobile pumping machine as the fixed one was now in the middle of the lake!  Their transport capacity has doubled with the purchase of a new truck and not only that, they can now refrigerate their produce too.  One of the best parts of my role has to be seeing first-hand how our producer customers have utilised the funds with which we are able to furnish them thanks to our members’ investments.

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Our New West Africa Office

Having failed to make the very same journey back in November due to fog at Amsterdam airport, I was inevitably somewhat perturbed to watch snow falling the day before my departure.  However I need not have worried as the journey from Newcastle to Accra, Ghana went very well and I was met as planned by John Dossou, our new Ghanaian colleague, who is to be responsible for our West African lending from a base in Accra.

One of the first things that struck me about Ghana and its capital city was its patriotism; the Ghanaian flag was flying everywhere.  I soon found out that this was primarily due to Ghana beating Tunisia in the Africa Cup of Nations on the night of my arrival and going through to the semi-finals of this auspicious tournament.  The final result had been 2-1 in the last minutes of extra time but at least John had been merrily occupied watching the football whilst waiting a very long time for me to clear immigration.

Our first day was spent visiting our new office in Accra and getting to know our new office-sharing partners, Fairtrade Africa and FLO.  As we only lend to FLO-certified producers (or to WFTO members), both parties are convinced that this office-share agreement and the potential collaboration it brings should ultimately be very beneficial to the producer groups with which we are both working directly, albeit in different capacities.

John also took me on an interesting shopping expedition in an attempt to help him kit out his new office.  Had any of the shops, including a big department store, accepted credit cards, we might have made some progress; we didn’t!

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The Brazil Nut Effect

After six hectic days of travelling we are coming to the end of our journey.  Today we met with of CANDELA PERÚ; some people may recognise the brazil nut organisation from the video we produced last year.

Candela has been established for 23 years and mainly works with brazil nut collectors in the Madre de Dios area of Eastern Peru.  Collectors or “Casteneros” are given 40 year concessions to collect nuts and one concession can cover 800 ha.  A massive area particularly when one considers that there may only be 1 tree per hectare.  Collectors can carry their nuts for three days to get to the nearest collection point.  The collection season is also very short at 3 months so the life of the collector is extremely difficult.  30% of the collectors have no other form of income.

The aim of Candela is to work with these grass roots communities providing river transport, establishing committees, providing food, training and with the help of a Shared Interest lending facility, they offer their 300 Casteneros much needed credit.  The nuts are brought to the CANDELA factory in Puerto Maldonado where they are shelled and dried before being transported by truck to Lima. Here the nuts are dried further, sorted, graded and vacuum packed for sale.

Brazil nut facts:

Brazil nut trees grow wild in the rainforest.  They can take up to 30 years to mature and can live up to 1000 years

The trees can grow up to 50m tall and 2m wide and require a specific bee to pollinate them which has made cultivation attempts largely unsuccessful.

Brazil nuts are not actually nuts. Like horse chestnuts, they are seeds contained in a capsule or pod, which splits apart. True nuts don’t split – the seed and the fruit are one and the same. 

The pods contain up to 24 nuts and can weigh up to 1KG.  These wooden capsules fall to the ground in the rainy season and are gathered by the collectors.    

A Brazil nut is 65 per cent oil. In a packet of muesli full of seeds, nuts and cereal, Brazil nuts always end up on top if you shake the packet; this is called the Brazil nut effect.

 

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A Lifeline for the Community

Edwin and I had a very moving experience visiting the inspirational association Intercrafts Peru. This co-operative represents over 20 producer groups and 1,400 members.  General Manager, Moner Lizana Huaman described the organisation as a family and many of the artisans we met echoed this sentiment.  Moner wanted me to pass on his thanks to Shared Interest investors for providing the funding to “change lives”. 

We saw how the groups recently approved term loan was being put to good use, funding the construction of a new building.  This new office will house 25 staff and will be a base for artisans to meet, share ideas and discuss their future vision. 

Whilst visiting Intercrafts we met Ildefolso a jovial man who is responsible for communications.  Ildefolso was suffering from kidney failure and attended hospital every other day for dialysis.  This vital treatment was only made possible through health insurance received from Intercrafts.

  

We also travelled to see one of the producer groups “Asociacion Casa Betania”.  There we met Emily, a weaver who had worked for the association for seven years.  Emily explained that she liked coming to work where she made colourful hats and jumpers for sale.  The money she earned meant she could have a better life for her family.  As we travelled to our next appointment, through the suburbs of Lima and witnessed the local hardship, it was even more apparent that this co-operative provides a lifeline for the community and really does change lives.

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Coffee, Cocoa and Social Impact

On Wednesday we left the banana plantations behind to visit Cepicafe to learn more about their Fairtrade coffee, sugar and cocoa exports.  When we arrived they were hosting an international conference but Finance Manager, Jose Fernando Reyes Cordova still found the time to show us around their facilities. Cepicafe is a fascinating model that really helps grass roots communities. Farmers are encouraged to work together in associations in order to increase the scale of production and reduce costs.  Once the association is large enough they are given assistance and staff to become independent. 

Cepicafe exports sugar, coffee, cocoa, marmalade and juice.  Shared Interest funds have been particularly helpful in this time of high coffee prices. During our visit we looked at the sugar and coffee processing, before heading out to see the cocoa farms.

Sugar cane needs a lot of sun to grow so the region is perfect. Cepicafe works with 700 sugar producers and by exporting sugar cane they have improved their quality of life and self-esteem significantly. Particular emphasis is placed on training the farmers to reduce their costs and maximise their yields.  Working with the farmers has also resulted in big reduction in alcoholism due to the sugar being used for other products and in addition, the increase in price makes alcohol less cost effective to make.

Cepicafe has seen a huge growth in cocoa production and export.  There are a number of factors that have led to this increase.  Firstly buyers are looking for a high quality aromatic cocoa.  Also the quality of the bigger cocoa producers has reduced but the most important factor has been the marketing of white cocoa “Porcelana” which is considered the best in the world.

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Going Bananas in Peru

I have learnt a LOT about bananas in my first few days in Peru so I thought I would share some banana facts with you.

Did you know that Peru is relatively new to bananas? Despite its late entry to the market the country has a competitive advantage in that the climate is relatively dry which reduces the risk of fungus and allows the farmers to cultivate their bananas without the use of chemicals.  It takes about 8 months for the banana bunch to grow.   First the ‘madre’ stem grows and three weeks after the flower appears small fingers start to grow.  A protective bag is then placed over the bunch to stop insects and birds attacking the fruit. 12 weeks later the bananas can be harvested.  The stem then dies and the farmer selects a “nino” child stem to grow and take the mothers place.  The process starts again.

Yesterday I brought you news of Banana co-operatives Cepibo and Appbosa.Since we met them we have visited two other banana groups, Bos and Apoq. Bos really felt like a community organisation. They have been using their Shared Interest term loan for a number of projects which include new storage, palletising and office facilities.  We went with the General Manager, Pedro Quezado to see the on-going construction work. Shared Interest’s lending has also enabled a government grant to be accessed to finance the projects. This new storage facility is important because it will reduce the waste created when containers are not available.  The next project will be a processing plant to make puree from the bananas which are rejected for export.  This will create 30 new jobs.  I spoke to one Board member, Mirta, who told me that she had worked with Bos for five years.  Previous to that she had sold her produce to the local market at a very low price.  Now she gets a good price for the bananas.  She told us that Bos had a very big impact on the community.  Each year they invite 750 local children to participate in learning activities.  Many more children go to school now and two young people have just graduated from university. This would have been impossible without the existence of Bos and the help of Shared Interest.

Later in the afternoon we met with Apoq is a small producer organisation with 458 members. All are small producers with on average 0.8 ha of land.  Since working with fair trade 7 years ago they have built their own packing plant and currently export 100% of their bananas. The social impact has been significant in this time.  They invest the Fairtrade premium to improve the packing stations and also help the producers with health and education.  They pay 50% towards a health insurance and the other half is paid by the farmer.  Training is provided on security, health, environmental impact and first aid topics.  Profits are reinvested back into the community with workers paid $10 per day, 25% more than the daily average.

I can’t resist sharing a few more banana facts…did you know that:

  • Bananas are the fourth most important staple crop in the world, and are significant for food security in many tropical countries. They are also the most commonly eaten fruit in the world.
  • If all the bananas grown in the world every year were placed end to end, they would circle the earth two thousand times.
  • World banana production amounts to around 81 million tonnes per year and due to the climatic conditions required to grow them, production is mainly concentrated in developing countries in Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America.
  • Fairtrade bananas were first introduced into the UK in 2000.

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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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Costa Rica & Peru Trip January 2011

My wife tells me I am now early-middle-aged (I disagree) but even if so I think I’m reasonably well travelled. She is Malaysian so we have that part of the world well covered and I’ve been privileged previously to visit Australia, India, East Africa, much of mainland Europe, North America and Colombia in “Latin America”. What to expect therefore of Costa Rica and Peru – two of the key bases for Shared Interest in that region of the world?

Costa Rica reminded me of Malaysia in some ways. Tropical, beautiful, coastal and a mixture of more developed city and poorer rural areas. We visited coffee growers and cooperatives as well as two contrasting sugar processing businesses.

From Costa Rica we flew down the South American coast to Peru and our base in Lima – a city whose centre is elegant and modern but which is ringed with suburbs where the fashion for adding further layers to domestic houses as the family extends, leaves a rather half-built and messy feel.

We visited a number of businesses in and around Lima (cocoa, coffee and handicrafts) but the highlight was a two- day trip to the jungle area of Madre de Dios to see the Brazil nut supplier Candela and meet some of its nut gatherers. Our base was Puerto Maldonado – a town of some 50,000 at the eastern end of the controversial Trans-Oceanic highway spanning South America from the Atlantic Brazil coast to the Pacific in Peru. To reach Puerto Maldonado was a two-hour flight inland passing through historic Cusco and going tantalisingly close to the legendary site of Machu Picchu.

Contrary to my preconceptions Brazil nuts don’t grow in small red net bags with other (Christmas fare) nuts arranged alongside! In fact they grow in clusters of 12 to 20 arranged, rather like the segments of a “chocolate orange”, in a pod which resembles the fairground coconut we see in the UK. This hard outer shell falls when it feels like it from the 100+ foot tree and gatherers (who work under a 40-year government permit) harvest the individual nuts from the outer – with a spectacular and thumb-tingling display of machete wielding.

Candela’s processing (further fascinating plant visits) provides good quality work at better-than-basic pay and in good conditions for over a hundred (mostly) women. The nut gatherer whose base we visited deep in the forest was certainly an inspiring and entrepreneurial woman. As well as the trees she earns a living from a small fish-farm, chicken farm and a herd of cattle which range through her land concession. In addition she has dammed the stream through her land and installed a micro-hydro-electric plant!

The two week trip flew by and yet we covered so much ground, saw so many interesting businesses and met some great people. This is one of the great, unquantifiable privileges of working for Shared Interest. You return jet-lagged and somewhat culture-shocked but, invariably, with greater commitment to the work of fair trade and full of admiration for the men and women at the beginning of the supply chains we take for granted.

Oh, and finally, the wildlife. Beautiful birds (and vultures), a shy iguana, mosquitoes (in the jungle area in Peru) by the busload and a (dead) three-metre boa constrictor in the rain-forest. Can’t wait for the next trip.

Brazil nut harvesting
The above picture shows Brazil nut harvesting.

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