Cocoa farmers get to see a UK farm in action

13 March 2012

Latest post from Tom Allen of Trading Visions:

While here in UK for Fairtrade Fortnight, Elias and Agnes had asked if they would be able to visit a farm.

We were able to set up a visit to Ripple Farm, a small organic farm situated in the Stour Valley in Kent. The owners Martin and Sarah were kind enough give up a few hours of their Sunday afternoon to show us around and explain how everything works.

Martin cuts some beetroot for everyone to try

Martin cuts some beetroot for everyone to try

It was great to see Elias and Agnes in the fields of Kent. When Kuapa Kokoo farmers visit, they generally get to visit all kinds of amazing places – from company offices, to town halls, to schools, to national civic buildings – but they rarely ever get into the countryside. Here they were in their element: talking to a farmer like themselves.

They fired off questions at Martin as we walked around Ripple Farm: how do they do the weeding, how many people work on the farm, how many vegetables are cultivated, what sort of equipment and machinery do they use…

Comparing the impact of the seasons and the weather in the UK and Ghana was a recurring topic of conversation. As we stood looking at several rows of leeks, the cocoa farmers were amazed to hear that most of them had been planted twelve months earlier.

“In Ghana,” said Agnes, “I plant maize and three months later I harvest it.”

Martin from Ripple smiled ruefully as he explained that when they plant maize for corn on the cob they will harvest one round of corn each year, and only if it is warm enough.

We walked though a field of brassicas, tasting leaves from various kinds of cabbage, curly kale and cavolo nero. We dug up a swede – Elias thought it was much like yam. We uncovered beetroot from under a winter bed of straw. The farmers observed that you didn’t need to keep crops warm like that in Ghana. They tried beetroot for the first time and thought it was delicious.

Ripple Farm also rent a beautiful Victorian walled garden up on a hill, with a stunning circular wall around it. Here they grow salad leaves in various old greenhouses. One of the greenhouses contained a warm and humid plant raising nursery, which the cocoa farmers loved.

Elias was very interested in exactly how Martin sells his vegetables. Do buyers come to the farm? Do they haggle? Martin explained that they take the vegetables to shops and farmers markets, locally and in London. He tends to set the price, and the English don’t go in for much haggling!

The cocoa farmers enjoyed climbing on the big potato harvester and admired Martin’s vintage 1950s tractor. Despite the fact that Ripple Farm is actually a small, low tech, labour intensive farm by British standards, Elias and Agnes remarked on how many machines there were compared with their own farms in Ghana where the only tool is a machete and everything is done by hand.

Afterwards, Martin and Sarah treated us to a delicious lunch and we took the train back to London.

Sweet news from Kasinthula

5 March 2012

Did you know that all the Fairtrade sugar in Divine comes from Kasinthula Cane Growers Association in Malawi.  Masauko Khembo has travelled over from Kasinthula to celebrate Fairtrade Fortnight here in UK. Here at Divine we’re looking forward to meeting him and hearing more about Kasinthula – but in the meantime we asked him a few questions….

Kasinthula women preparing seedcane

Kasinthula women preparing seedcane

KasinthulaCane GrowersAssociation (KCG) is a smallholder sugar cane projectlocated in the in hospitable Shire River Valley District of Chikhwawa in the south of Malawi.Long droughts occasionally result in famine and the twice-yearly rains frequently bring floods.Most families eke out a living growingmaize, cassava or rice on the arid land, whileothers earn cash from sugar cane or cotton or work on nearby sugar plantations. Poverty is rife with most people living in very basic mud huts and few able to afford to keep livestock.

Masauko visiting Divine Chocolate

Masauko visiting Divine Chocolate

What do you think of Divine Chocolate, which is made with Fairtrade sugar from Kasinthula?
Having tasted it I find it much better in terms of taste than those we buy at home which are made in South Africa. Divine Chocolate and other organisations that use Kasinthula Fairtrade sugar are like bringing divine intervention on reduction of poverty on Kasinthula farmers and surrounding communities. Lives of Kasinthula farmers and surrounding communities have really been transformed through FT.

What is the most important impact that being Fairtrade certified has made on the lives of sugar farmers in Malawi?

So much impact. Not only on sugarcane farmers but even the communities around the sugarcane farms. One example I would give is the primary school that has been constructed using Fairtrade premium funds. Before the school construction children had to walk more than 5km to the nearest school. For them to be able to walk such distance they had to be 7 or 8 years old. With the school they are able to start school at 5. Because of starting school late most girls could not complete primary school before getting married. With the school they will be in eighth grade which is the last in primary school at the age of 13. They should be able to go to secondary school before they think of getting married.

Kasinthula farmers are now living in better houses (brick walled and iron sheet roofed). Most of them have houses that are electrified. They now have access to portable water separating them from livestock in terms of sharing source of drinking water.

What are your hopes for the future – for you personally – and for Kasinthula? What is your message for people here in the UK (and the USA where Divine Chocolate is too)?
Personally my hope is to work for a bigger Kasinthula with more farmers than currently are. A bigger Kasinthula means more people getting out of a poverty trap. For the people in UK and US my message is buy more of Divine chocolate. There may be more brands of chocolate in the market but by buying Divine chocolate you are supporting famers and surrounding communities at Kasinthula. You are sponsoring construction of schools, improving maternal and child health of the people of Kasinthula, you are preventing sharing of drinking water between animals and people as people are now drinking from boreholes drilled using premium funds while animals continue drinking from rivers.