Tag Archives: Development

Beyond Fair Trade premiums: Onam brings celebrations for farming families in Kerala

September brings the onset of Onam, the annual harvest festival, in Kerala, South India.IMG_2507

Small-holder farmers are celebrating this year. 4500 growers of cashew, coconut, coffee and spices amongst many crops, all very small scale (a couple of hectares), are collectively Fair Trade Alliance Kerala (FTAK). The alliance was formed in 2005, to address twin threats of farm debt and poverty both on the increase at that time and characterised in the extreme at times by the tragedy of farmer suicides.  Each year since then it gets stronger, a collaboration between farmers, promoters and consumers, defending the Kerala Development Model and using Fair Trade as a market tool to secure a strong sustainable business.

10666084_1489731467945805_4827038276676895373_nThe Onam celebration marks the annual distribution of price additional to the market. This year INR 11 million or $189,655 from cashew sales in to Fair Trade markets in Europe and USA.  Fairtrade premiums (certified by Fairtrade International) make up an additional INR 5 million.

This is the true inspiration. They are proud not just for the their own individual achievements as farming families managing the yearly risks but for that of the system as a whole and for all the cashew farmers of the region who have also indirectly benefitted from higher seasonal prices due to the associations strength and market share of the their supply chain. The security of a Fairtrade consumer market has added value to their crop and empowered many families.

Whilst you can read more about their Fairtrade story on the pages of the UK Fairtrade IMG_0296Foundation or on brands that sell their product such as Liberation CIC,  the wider farmer story is the one that goes on 365 days a year on their small homestead farms.

The glut of cashews collected at peak season gave power to processors who traded down prices well below cost of production as farmers became price takers. They had little choice and for some the stress was too much. Now with guaranteed contracts and pre-season finance flowing before harvest, FTAK and their supply chain partners can negotiate above market prices for the entire crop. Committed consumers are very happy to pay a small premium at retail to secure the deals.

Individual farmers in turn, trust the integrity of their Association and such is market share, local farm gate prices were estimated to be 30% higher at peak season. Now there are 40,000 small holder families farming cashews in the northern districts of Kerala producing between them around 30 million Kilograms of raw cashew nuts. The additional benefit the cashew farmers at large received because of the presence of FTAK intervening strategically in the market is about USD 0.30 per kg. This is an addition of nearly INR 450 million or USD 7.7 million in to the local economy this cashew season … just how much indirect benefit  is Fair Trade bringing!

Surely changing the paradigm like this is the true value and strength of Fair Trade when organisations leverage power beyond the personal bargaining of individuals to compete with businesses and bringing benefits to the many.IMG_2549

Empowerment has developed fast, their Fairtrade+3 policy is beginning to address the wider regional issues of biodiversity, gender equality and food security.  Also, having learnt that most value is accrued by businesses ahead of them in the chain, the farmers and their supporters now have confidence to launch their own brand into the BxT1NCyCMAAE_55Indian market, spearheaded by high quality organic coconut oil. What a fantastic example to farmers everywhere!



A year’s progress for the women of Pulpally in Kerala

Pulpally women's group describe their loan project

Pulpally women’s group describe their loan project

In April 2012 I visited Wayanad in Kerala and meet the Pulpally women’s group and learnt about FTAK’s ‘Fairtrade plus 3’ policy, in particular to distribute Fairtrade premiums as loans for livelihood development through women’s projects . See  https://www.facebook.com/notes/equal-exchange-uk/gender-justice-at-fairtrade%20-alliance-kerala-ftak/10150672014243344 and similar for reports.

The ladies were thrilled with their success then and now I wanted to hear how their work was progressing a year later.

Our party (Tim and Martin from Fairtrade Foundation) myself, Tomy Mathew, and Paul (the FTAK district officer ) met them again . All smiles as we started the meeting. There was an air of excitement presenting to visitors again.

Philomena began by reporting on the previous meeting, describing loans repaid, decisions made and noting that they had to decide who was going to the FTAK office inauguration the next day.  Apparaently there were only 6 places for the members and they all wanted to go.

The group had applied for a loan from the Fairtrade premium fund via the local panchayat board of FTAK, this had been approved at district and then centrally. This year 20 women had taken loans all now managed by the group. 10 had bought cows (Rp150,000), 5 goats and 5 for collective vegetable growing. In total Rp325000. After 8 months Rp90,000 had been repaid. All households plant tapioca root as a household staple and grow yams for mainly for sale if the price was good or storage/later use if not.

Loans for cows are popular with Pulpally women's group

Loans for cows are popular with Pulpally women’s group

Cows were seen as a long term investment, providing cow-dung for their organic farms, milk for immediate income via the local coop and the occasional sale. Goats, as we were to learn later were ready for sale in 6 months and also a popular income generator.

What was the impact of your work this year?

‘We have only been doing this for two years so don’t expect so much quickly!.  We know how to handle money though. Now we can say we have done this. ‘

‘Last year we made a profit and repaid the loan. This year we used the profit to plant again, but we didn’t give any yam money to the house (the husband).  The rain was poor and we didn’t grow many (yield) and the price was bad. We will have to keep asking for money this year.’

One of the big changes reported by the district officer was attitude to travel. Their eyes had been opened and had a real appetite for travel for leaving the household chores.  Molly spoke of how , following an FTAK policy statement of support for anti-nuclear action in Tamil Nadu, 5 women had been to a demonstration at Kundankulan. For years it was their menfolk who made decisions and travelled now it was their turn and the enthusiasm for new experiences was very evident.

‘We are no longer stuck in the kitchen, we meet often and always go the AGM. Don’t send us on these local trips… we want a big one with all of us’

'We'll take 8 to the AGM. We can fit 8 on the 6 seats allocated!'

‘We’ll take 8 to the AGM. We can fit 8 on the 6 seats allocated!’

Last year, FTAK piloted cashew collection stations run by women managers. It was a success. This year the Wayanad group ran the first coffee collection depot. Theamma was the manager with Celin’s help.

Molly described how they had planned their farm work together.

‘We decided three of us would work together picking coffee on our farms for 3 days. We had to get all our jobs finished by 10 o’clock to start work. Finish the cooking and get children to school. At the end we only needed men to lift the bags’

The group had collected over 40 tonnes of coffee.

‘This year we (the group supporting the collection depot), collected nearly 25,000 kg of organic coffee and 18,000kg non organic coffee. We received 75Rp/kg for organic. Farmers received 68 with 7 later as a bonus. The group took a 0.75RP (75 piasa) commission to support our work. In total , over the season, we handled 25 lakh rupees cash (25,00,000Rp) and distributed 2 lakh bonus.’

Conversation wandered to the future. Labour shortages are hitting farms across India. Families worry about the future as children head for city lights, call centres and IT jobs.

Do you think your children will want to continue farming?

‘The older children are being trained on the farm, others will not want to farm but the land is theirs so how can they not farm it? ‘

I left wondering if this old and deeply felt connection with the land and the new-found aspirations of these women will secure a future for the Kerala homestead farmers despite the uncertainties in modern India.