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Fairtrade Fortnight 2020

We were very honoured this year, to host two Malawian visitors during Fair Trade Fortnight.

Aubrey Meki Chilenje, a farmer and Nduilzayani Zaya, a teacher from the Kasinthula Cane Growers Association in Malawi, visited Huntly on Friday 28th February.

Home to the Kasinthula Cane Growers (KCG) smallholders’ project is the inhospitable, arid Shire Valley region in southern Malawi. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in Southern Africa. Long droughts can cause famine and the twice-yearly rains often bring floods. Most families eke out a meager living growing maize, cassava or rice, while others earn cash from sugar cane and cotton.  Some work on nearby sugar plantations.   Poverty is rife and most people live in basic huts and can’t to afford to keep livestock.

Agriculture provides a livelihood for over 85% of the population, of which around 90% are smallholders. Sugar is the third biggest export after tobacco and tea. Development of the sugar sector is constrained by high costs, poor rural infrastructure, inadequate health facilities, lack of agricultural support services, and lack of appropriate technology.

KCGL was jointly set up in 1996 by the state-run Sugar Corporation and a sugar mill later taken over by Illovo Sugar (Malawi) Ltd, part of Illovo Sugar, a South African-owned leading global sugar producer which dominates production in Malawi.

The project involved converting an area of uneconomic land to sugar cane production in order to increase the supply of raw cane to the mill and, at the same time, provide an income for the subsistence farmers who struggled to grow enough food to eat.  The project extends to around 1,200 hectares of land which is leased from the government.  This land is divided into individual plots of 2.5 to 3 hectares.

Aubrey is a sugar farmer and said that currently only 40% of the sugar produced on the Kasinthula plantation is sold on to fair trade companies.  However, the whole farm has benefited from the principles of fair trade being adhered to which enables the farmers to have a better standard of living than those who work on other sugar plantations in Malawi.

They spoke about how important the fair trade premium was to them.  It has enabled them to install 20 water stations to provide safe, clean water stations on the plantation and to the three villages that had to collect water from the Shire River.  No longer having to risk water-borne diseases and attacks from crocodiles, access to clean water is a lifesaver in this region.

The first borehole was dug in the village of Kapasule in March 2004. The 500-plus villagers no longer have to use the river or make the 2.5 km walk to Siseu village to collect clean water. The second borehole was dug in Chinangwa village in 2005 and 10 more were constructed in 2008.  In  Salumeji village tap water now flows right in to farmers’ homes. The Southern Regional Water Board has also installed underground pipes and water has been flowing through them since 2009.

The extra income from Fairtrade sales has allowed most of the cooperative members to build new houses. Small mud huts with flimsy thatch roofs have been replaced by larger, sturdy houses with brick walls and tin roofs.  The Lower Shire valley was badly affected by a severe drought in 2005 that caused crops to fail. The fairtrade premium fund was used to provide every farmer with two separate cash payments to buy food.  In 2006 a donation was made to the Kasinthula Bilharzia Clinic for the purchase of anti-bilharzia drugs.

Nduili also emphasized how important the fair trade premium had been to her.  Her mother and father were farmers on the plantation.  Sadly, her father has passed away, but her mother has continued to work on the farm meaning that her and her brothers and sisters have all been able to attend school.  They work part-time on the farm during school holidays, but her siblings are busy working towards their exams too.  Nduili has gone on to attend teacher training college and is now a qualified business studies teacher working full time in the local academy.  She wouldn’t have been able to do this if the farm hadn’t kept her mother on and paid her a fair wage after her father had died.

Aubrey also had a warning about global warming; it’s already having an adverse affect on the farm.  They’ve recently seen a 20% decrease in crop yield.

It was a great evening.  Abrey and Nduili were given a very warm welcome by all who came to chat to them (it was snowing outside!).  They were also very surprised and happy to see just how many products we sell which were either produced in Malawi or contain sugar farmed on the Kasinthula plantation!

Information taken from Kasinthula’s website: www.kasinthula.mw


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