Henry Matenda - a Fairtrade sugar farmer in Malawi

Henry Matenda – KCGA, Malawi

Henry Matenda owns a 2.5 hectare plot of land on which he grows sugar cane as part of Kasinthula Cane Growers’ Association (KCGA).

About Henry

Henry MatendaHenry has been a member since 1998 and currently serves as a committee member. He also works as a weighbridge clerk for KCGA.

Henry and his wife Agnes have two young children, daughter Esthery, age 6, and son Chris, 16 months. In his spare time Henry likes playing and watching football, especially Liverpool in the Premier League.

Kasinthula Cane Grower’s Association

KCGA is a smallholder sugar cane project located in the Shire valley, an inhospitable region of southern Malawi. It has a very hot, harsh climate with a long dry season. Droughts occasionally result in famine, and the twice-yearly rains often bring floods.

Literacy levels are low and poverty is widespread. Most people live in basic mud huts with grass roofs. Few families can afford to keep livestock and most eke out a living growing maize, cassava, sorghum, millet and rice. Some earn cash from sugar cane or cotton, or by labouring on nearby sugar plantations.

Apart from the climate, other challenges faced by the communities include high input costs, poor rural infrastructure, inadequate health facilities, and a lack of agricultural extension services and appropriate technology.

KCGA was set up in 1996 as a rural poverty reduction joint venture with the Government of Malawi and a nearby sugar mill, now owned by Illovo Sugar. An area of largely unproductive land was converted to sugar cane production to increase the supply of raw cane to the mill, while providing an income initially for 282 subsistence farmers, each responsible for plots of two to three hectares.

The soil is fertile, but lack of regular rainfall meant an expensive irrigation system, beyond the means of most farmers, had to be installed and maintained to make commercial sugar production viable.

The project has been extended to 1,155 hectares thanks to an EU grant. Membership has grown to 482 farmers, and nearly 800 permanent and seasonal field workers are now employed in the fields. In 2011-12, 69,000 tonnes of sugar cane were harvested which the mill processed into 7,700 tonnes of raw sugar. A further extension programme in 2013 will increase production to 1,435 hectares and membership to 622 farmers, with production projected to reach 16,000 tonnes of sugar a year.

Fairtrade Partnership

KCGA was Fairtrade certified in 2003. On top of the contract price for the sugar cane negotiated with the mill, Fairtrade sales include an additional Fairtrade Premium of $60 a tonne. The farmers have agreed to invest the Premium in community development (30%), plough-out and replanting (30%) and farmer development – cash payments for school fees and housing improvements (40%). An elected committee is responsible for the management of Premium-funded projects.

How farmers have invested the Fairtrade Premium

Fairtrade Premiums have been invested in improving cane productivity as well as in healthcare, clean water, education and other projects to alleviate poverty in the community. For example:

  • A new primary school, built and opened in 2011, allows children to start school when they are five years old. Previously, they had to wait until they were seven or eight and old enough to walk the long distance to the nearest school.
  • Six computers and three printers have been donated to local high schools and children’s school fees are paid.
  • Drugs to treat bilharzia (a chronic parasitic disease) are regularly donated to the Kasinthula Bilharzia Clinic, which has now been extended into a full healthcare clinic with a house for the resident clinical officer.
  • Four bicycle ambulances have been purchased. These bikes are adapted to pull specially designed trailers as a cheap and simple way of transporting patients for treatment.
  • 18 boreholes have been dug and now supply clean water to local villages. Previously, polluted well water often caused diseases such as bilharzia, cholera and dysentery and there were incidents of women being attacked by crocodiles when collecting water from the Shire River.
  • An exciting water project is providing tap water to homes in Salumeji village.
  • Financial support has been given to a government project making electricity available for the first time in the villages of Chinangwa and Ntondeza. Families have bought radios and televisions, and fridges to keep food fresh in the tropical heat. Electric lighting makes it easier for children to do their homework at night.
  • Most members have replaced leaky grass-thatched huts with brick-built houses with corrugated iron roofs.
  • Sugar cane fields have been ploughed out and replanted to improve yields and increase farmers’ incomes.
  • EU grants have been secured – and matched by KCGA – to fund a two-stage 680-hectare expansion programme that will enable 340 more farming households to join and significantly improve their standard of living by growing sugar cane.

Buying Fairtrade sugar

KCGA’s total production is now sold to Fairtrade buyers. They include companies in Belgium, Germany, Norway and the US, as well as Billington’s, the Co-op, Equal Exchange, Napier Brown, Nirvana Sugars, Traidcraft and Whitworths in the UK.

KCGA’s sugar is available in brown and white sugar packs and catering sticks, as well as in biscuits, cakes, drinking chocolate, sweets and even spiced drinks such as mulled wine. With the launch of Fairtrade cosmetics, the sugar is also available in body scrubs and face masks.