A spoonful of Fairtrade sugar

29 Oct 2012 9:59

By Kate Jones, Schools Campaign Officer, Fairtrade Foundation

I’m a creature of habit. The same coffee each day. Large Fairtrade latte, take away cup, skimmed milk if you’ve got it, don’t worry if you haven’t. Half a Fairtrade brown sugar.

Giving the sugar sachet a shake loosens the golden granules; fixing the plastic lid – these are as much part of the ritual as drinking the coffee. There’s a recycling bin for cups and I leave only one thing behind. I didn’t realise what a wasteful thing I was doing by leaving it, forgotten, on the table, as if it didn’t matter at all. I didn’t realise what a big deal it was. I won’t be doing it any more. Because last week, I was lucky enough to meet the people who grew the Fairtrade sugar in that half sachet I’d left behind. Boy, do they work hard for us.

Each day, Emma and her husband Elliott are on their farm in Malawi, at 5am, working before the searing African sun pushes the temperature past a stifling 40 degrees. It takes a year to grow sugar cane, and the two of them have to weed, bank the soil and tend the plants by hand every day.

After 20 minutes in the field, I’m a wreck. Sweating, skin burning up, head pounding. I’m not even doing anything. I give Emma my hat. She needs it more than me.

Until recently, Emma combined farming with collecting water, cooking, and looking after her children. I ask her how long took to fetch water. ‘Three to four hours’, she says, ‘and I did it twice a day’. Seven or eight hours, the same that many of us in the UK work each day. The plastic canister is so heavy I can’t lift it past my knees, let alone carry it all the way up the hill on my head. I guess Emma’s happy there’s now a borehole nearby, built thanks to the Fairtrade Premium. She smiles. ‘I put the dinner on, and go to collect water. When I get back 10 minutes later, dinner is cooked.’

The children arrive home from their school in time for dinner – it opened in January this year thanks to money from the Fairtrade Premium, paid to the Kasinthula Cane Growers Association. Many of the local children would be missing out on school without this one in their village, says their Headteacher, Gasper.

It’s wonderful to see Fairtrade in action, having real impact for farmers and their families. The higher Fairtrade price last year meant Emma and Elliott bought new roof for their house and a cow. I ask their eldest son, John, to show me, but I’m out of luck. ‘We ate it!’

I ask around what people would like to spend the Fairtrade Premium on next year. Piped water, says Elliott. A shelter for orphaned children, says their 14-year-old, Chifundo. School resources, says Gasper – can I help make it happen? No, I tell him. It’s up to the farmers’ Association to decide what’s most important. Fairtrade means the power is with the community. Quite literally, in this case - electricity has been provided with Fairtrade Premium money.

I missed my Fairtrade latte in Malawi. But now I’m back, it’s all the sweeter - with a whole sachet of Fairtrade sugar.


Image of the M’dziweni family, from left to right: Mary, Wilson, Elliott, Kondwani, Chifundo, John and Emma ©Simon Rawles 2012

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