Eksteenskuil Agriculture Co-operative, South Africa

Fairtrade certified in 2003, EAC grows three types of raisin grapes; Thompson Seedless Raisins, Golden Sultanas and Orange River Sultanas.

About Eksteenskuil Agriculture Co-operative

The farming communities where Eksteenskuil Agriculture Co-operative (EAC) is based lie near the town of Keimos, on the lower Orange River in the Northern Cape, South Africa. The area’s hot climate and soil type is suitable for growing cotton, maize and vegetables. In the 1970s the government provided flood irrigation using a system of canals, enabling the planting of vines for raisin grapes. 

The co-operative grows three varieties of raisin grapes which are then dried to be used as ingredients in 50 products – from fruit & nut snacks, muesli and cereal bars to cookies, cakes and Christmas pudding – available in the UK from Traidcraft, Halo, Alara, Sun Cottage, Planters, The Handmade Bakery Group, and Creative Confectionary as well as own-label products from The Co-op, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

Background

In 1994, raisin farmers in the Eskteenskuil community got together to form the Eksteenskuil Farmers Association (EFA) with the objective of helping small-scale farmers get access to training, to encourage other farmers to start vineyards and to support social development.  In 1995, EFA began a relationship with leading UK fair trade company Traidcraft, who purchased EFA’s raisins via the South African Dried Fruit Co-operative (SAD), a government-funded provider of technical support and processing and marketing services. When Fairtrade standards for producer organisations and traders were formalised in the early 1990s, EFA needed to restructure in order to meet and be certified under Fairtrade standards. Consequently EFA was disbanded and re-established in 2007 as the Eksteenskuil Agriculture Co-operative, which had the legal status of a producer cooperative under South African law.     

In racial terms, the members of EAC are mixed-race. Under apartheid they were labelled as ‘coloured’ and are now, with Historically Disadvantaged Individuals (HDI) status, eligible for government support within its Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment legislation (see B-BBEE below).   

Membership of EAC stands at 89 and is open to all HDI small-scale raisin producers in the area. Most are individual farmers and some have joined forces to operate as small companies. The members farm a total area of around 367ha with raisin grape vines grown on about 240ha. Around 60% of members owning less than 5ha of arable land each. Seasonal workers are employed by 80% of farmers to help with pruning and harvesting and combined, the members employ several hundred seasonal workers. The grapes are harvested in February and March. Thompson Seedless grapes are sun-dried on cement drying courts for 16 days to produce raisins.  The sultana varieties are produced from the same grapes but processed to alter their colour and taste. They are placed on drying racks, stacked, covered with tarpaulins, and fumigated with sulphur dioxide smoke to produce light or dark golden colour fruit. The dried fruit is then transported to SAD for packing, marketing and export.

Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE)

A Black Economic Empowerment programme was introduced in South Africa after the end of apartheid to redress the legacy of inequality in business ownership, management and skills. The legislation underpinning this programme is the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act (2003) and subsequent Codes of Good Practice, which form the framework for assessing levels of worker empowerment.  B-BBEE legislation promotes black ownership of businesses, training and skills development to increase employment opportunities, and promotes employment equity for ‘historically disadvantaged individuals’ (HDI). Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO) is responsible for setting Fairtrade standards and its certification policy for South Africa, adopted in 2007, requires enterprises which depend on hired labour to comply with B-BBEE legislation. Fairtrade doesn’t require small farmer organisations such as EAC to meet this policy because its purpose is the empowerment of hired labour workforces.   However, as the owners of EAC are designated HDIs, the organisation is eligible to apply for other government support and funding earmarked for empowerment projects that contribute to meeting the goals of B-BBEE.

Fairtrade

Under the apartheid regime, 85% of agricultural land was owned by the minority white farmers with the workforce largely made up of oppressed and uneducated black workers. This exclusion from land ownership precluded the development of a smallholder agriculture sector which plays an important economic and social role in most developing countries. Today, progress has been made but smallholders remain marginalised in the agricultural sector, lacking the resources of land and capital to compete on quality and productivity with commercial farms.

Small-scale producers can become Fairtrade certified if they are organised into co-operatives or other associations that have a democratic structure and transparent administration that enable effective control by their members. There must be no discrimination against members on the basis of race, religion, gender, politics, and ethnic or social origin. Farmers must protect the environment including soil fertility and water sources, dispose of waste responsibly, and minimise the use of chemical fertilisers and insecticides. 

Fairtrade Standards include payment of a fair and stable price, improved and long-term market access, and the availability of pre-finance when requested. Farmers’ groups also receive the additional Fairtrade Premium to invest in projects that benefit their communities. Typically the premium is invested in education, healthcare, or farm improvements to increase income. 

Fairtrade Premium

The farmers’ grape productivity is restricted by lack of access to reliable tractors and other basic agricultural implements and equipment. EAC members decided to invest the Fairtrade Premium in purchasing a pool of tools and equipment that members can hire by the day at a nominal price. This includes ploughs, grass cutters, pumps and building tools including cement mixers used in the construction of drying courts. EAC has separately acquired three tractors for members to hire.

The Premium has been used to build two community water pumps that filter and supply water from the canals to the communities so they no longer have to walk long distances to fetch unfiltered water with buckets direct from the canals.

The Premium has also been used on smaller projects such as giving every child a school bag for their books. Before this, the children had to use plastic shopping bags. For funerals, the Board provide support including covering the costs of a floral wreath and post-funeral catering.

Impact of Fairtrade

Most of EAC members’ produce is exported via SAD. Being part of Fairtrade has allowed this group of farmers to join together into a strong group and to develop the necessary skills and leadership to export directly to the UK Fairtrade market via Traidcraft and receive higher prices and long-term trading relationships.
 
Fairtrade has provided the impetus for the co-operative to become more democratic and transparent in its operations. The Board is democratically elected and the representatives include women. Fairtrade has provided the organisation with technical support and training to help improve its business capacity and support members to meet Fairtrade Standards. Members have also been trained in areas such as keeping production records (input costs, expenditures) and communications. 

One farmer says that being part of Fairtrade ‘has enabled the outside world to know about small farmers of Eksteenskuil’.