24 January, 2014

Farmers want to sell more product on Fairtrade terms - we must scale up

by Lucy Walker, Fairtrade campaigner

When Fairtrade campaigner Lucy Walker applied to be a Fairtrade school mentor with People and Planet, she didn’t expect that a year later she’d be meeting producers first-hand in Ghana. In this guest blog, Lucy questions the difference that more Fairtrade could make to millions of smallholder farmers.

Fairtrade in GhanaOver a year ago, I applied to be a Fairtrade school mentor with People and Planet to work with young people around issues that I – and they – care about, to share knowledge on trade issues, social injustices and corporate power, and ultimately convey the fact that we can all influence change.

The experience was extraordinary; I knew young people would be engaged but could never have guessed the extent of their immediate concern, desire to learn and debate, and their creativity and passion in working out how they could make a difference

Twelve months on and I was given the opportunity to ‘Meet the People’ with Traidcraft – a project which allows people to experience life in local communities. I wanted to find out the difference Fairtrade really makes, and see how it has impacted on the lives of those involved.

Palm oil

We began our journey in Ghana by traveling to a place called Asuom, enjoying the lush landscape, on our way to a fair trade and Organic palm oil plantation, Serendipalm.

The money obtained from selling their oil on fair trade terms had allowed this cooperative to build a maternity ward, and plans were being made to build a lit bridge for safety at night. Workers received bonuses, pension schemes and investment trusts, and free seedlings in order to grow their own produce. The farm used waste palm as fertiliser – a stark contrast to non-organic, non-fair trade farms we passed with workers spraying toxic pesticides from their back with no protection.  

After seeing the Palm fields, having a go at picking the palm fruits from the spikes, and watching the processing procedure we visited the fair trade premium projects in the local village – a large toilet block painted with beautiful male and female faces and a huge well delivering clean water to the whole village.

It was a day that left me thinking; the fact that this palm oil plantation was fair trade had made a huge difference in people’s lives, but the farm produced only for Dr Bronner, an American Soap production company which advertises their soaps on the basis of their ethical production.

This cooperative had been set up by Dr Bronner, and I noticed other farms did not have the same assistance. Palm oil is in so many things that we use (the almonds I had on the plane back even listed palm oil in the ingredients) – imagine the difference to livelihoods we could make if there was a market for all palm oil to be traded fairly.

More demand

New KoforiduaOn my third day in Ghana, we visited New Koforidua, Ghana’s first Fairtrade town and member of the Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative. Nana (the Chief) introduced herself first, looking fantastic in a white wrap and huge necklace.

The farmers told us that Fairtrade brought them many benefits, with 75% of the Cocoa they produced sold as such, with the rest being sold on the conventional market. In the west we are often led to believe that there is a shortage in the market but here this is clearly not the case. Their worries were global, asking how we would maintain demand whilst cheaper alternatives were available.

On day four, we visited Kuapa Kokoo headquarters. Their aims are to develop into a strong farmer based organisation that is caring, efficient and fair; executives are voted in democratically and its past three presidents have been women. The organisation consists of 1,500 member groups, present in 1,250 villages comprising of a total of 83,000 farmers.

The benefits received are huge; extensive training and capacity building, cash bonuses, environmental projects, credit unions to encourage saving, and there is a gender programme providing training for women in income providing activities. Furthermore, the Fairtrade premium is put into a trust headed by a group of farmers who decide where it goes; it has been used to strengthen governance, provide social projects, provide cash bonuses, aid in business enhancement, ensure compliance with Fairtrade requirements, enhance sustainability and to provide child labour awareness activities.

The benefits spread beyond the farmers too – anyone within the communities can attend training, use the facilities and send their children to the schools.  

Cocoa pod from Kuapa KokooWe visited a remote incredibly welcoming village that had experienced many benefits as a result of being part of a Fairtrade cooperative. After being greeted off the bus with a handshake and a bow, and an introduction from the chief, we were taken to a school that had been built (previously children hadn’t attended school since the closest one was a 7km walk away) and to a cocoa farm to see the pods being picked, beans being fermented and them drying in the sun.

It is a tough balance; the government of Ghana is now starting to purchase Fairtrade cocoa – this sounds fantastic when you think that more people will receive a fair price as well as all the benefits described above, but this worries Kuapa Kokoo since they are now in competition to sell their product. We in the Global North need to ensure that demand for Fairtrade is maintained so that the movement can spread.

Making a difference

The Fairtrade premium had made a huge difference to farmers’ lives, helping provide schools for their children, a support structure enabling them to promote workers and child rights and the right to a sanitary, safe, preserved environment, as well as providing a higher, more secure, income.

The next step is to scale up. More and more individuals want to join Fairtrade cooperatives due to the obvious benefit but worry – as do I – that demand won’t be sustained; a worry amplified by the fact that so much cocoa produced as Fairtrade is not sold as such despite companies citing a shortage of Fairtrade produced cocoa as the reason for not scaling up.

The desire from Ghana is there; farmers want to sell more of their product on Fairtrade terms.

This trip was incredible - I learned so much from such wonderful people that will stay with me forever. Meda’se Ghana and Fairtrade!

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