Fairtrade Delegation visits St. Patricks College Thurles
Report by Una Johnston, Thurles Fairtrade Secretary.
A major highlight of Fairtrade Fortnight , here in Thurles, was the visit yesterday to St. Patrick’s College and the Presentation Secondary School by Fairtrade coffee producer Mr Josephat Sylvand, and Mrs Hella Alikuru, Kenya, who represents plantation workers in East Africa.
The visitors were welcomed by the staff and students and by the Thurles Fairtrade committee.
Josephat Sylvand is the Assistant Export Manager at Kagera Co-operative Union Ltd. KCU was the first exporter of organic coffee from Tanzania and is the largest supplier of organic Robusta coffee to the Fairtrade market. Josephat is a son of a coffee producer who was a committed member of KCU Ltd. By being a member of KCU and its Fairtrade practices, he has managed to educate his family, some even to university level.
Josephat himself joined KCU Ltd in 2005 as a graduate and worked as a coffee trader. At the same time he was being trained on all issues relating to coffee export and marketing. Currently he is an Assistant Export Manager, and his role includes negotiating coffee contracts and offering and receiving bids for the coffee.
KCU is made up of 124 Primary Cooperative Societies representing over 60,000 small farmers since 1988 they have been selling an increasing part of its members’ coffee under Fairtrade terms.
KCU’s mission and objective is to seek, establish and maintain favourable markets in order to improve the income and well-being of its farmers. It is a pioneer of Fairtrade in Tanzania. It has been involved in the promotion of Tanzania coffee abroad, always focused on increased sales and higher remuneration for the farmer. Through active involvement with, and direct selling into, the Fairtrade market, KCU has paid its farmers up to 100% more than generated through the commercial price. It is also involved with Export Promotion of Organic Products in Africa (EPOPA), whose objective is to promote innovative and environmentally sound farming techniques aimed at improving the well-being of the community.
Josephat told the Thurles audience that when members collect and market their coffee together, they create a fund to which deductions from coffee sales are deposited to assist members’ children in attaining education, health services and other basic needs. This chance is usually wasted when coffee is collected by private buyers, who most of the times lack a collective responsibility drive. The Fairtrade social premium has enabled our members to construct/improve roads and bridges to their crop collection centers. Also classrooms and health centers have been constructed, which cements not only the relationship within our members, but also creates a strong partnership between KCU members and the Fairtrade buyers Josephat said. With the Fairtrade minimum price, KCU members have also been able to invest into an instant coffee factory, to ensure that value is added to the coffee that is exported by the union. Josephat said that his organization currently sells 30% of its coffee on Fairtrade terms. With the support of Irish consumers, this can keep rising, ensuring that the social, economic and environmental benefits of fair-trade continue to flow to his colleagues in Tanzania.
Mrs. Hella Alikuru is the Regional Coordinator for the International Union of Food & Agricultural Workers (IUF) Nairobi, Kenya. She advises the trade unions/workers on their participation and their rights within the Fairtrade system. In East Africa, Fairtrade has mainly been involved in flowers, coffee and tea, on large plantations.
On many of these estates there are 3-7,000 people employed and the workers have to live on the estates, which are often remote and cut off from the outside world. Workers earn less than one euro per day and have to buy food, clothing and all necessities with that money. Often they do not have access to electricity or running water. Conditions are very poor in many cases. Children may go to school but often their teachers are unqualified and children are really seen as workers in training. Their poor levels of education ensure that they are locked in a cycle of poverty as they end up as estate workers. Hella worked as a trade unionist on one estate where a woman died giving childbirth and for 5 years Hella campaigned to get some maternity health services in place for the staff.
Hella is involved in Fairtrade activities as an IUF representative for the African region. Although Fairtrade schemes have existed for years on some farms, the challenge has been how to use the premium funds to benefit the workers and enhance their participation in joint employer/worker bodies. In Tanzania, the workers have formed Savings and Credit Schemes and the workers borrow the funds with no interest charged.
In Kenya, using Fairtrade premium funds, some farms have purchased vehicles for the transportation of workers and set up computer training facilities, and in Uganda the funds are mainly used for infrastructure development. For Hella, Fairtrade represents a way out of poverty for the people she represents.
As always it is wonderful to have the opportunity to meet the people from the Fairtrade front line and to hear about the difference that Fairtrade makes in people’s lives. Despite the recession, sales of Fairtrade products are growing so Irish consumers remain convinced that their purchases are making that difference.