Fairtrade Mends Bridges to Fill your Teacup
Amos Thiong’o, Regional Coordinator at Fairtrade Africa, had a tough journey to visit Kayonze tea estate in Uganda. But what he saw when he got there more than made up for it, as he reports in this piece.
Kayonza Growers Tea Factory is one of the four Fairtrade certified tea producers’ organizations in Uganda. The beautiful cooperative is located in the Kanungu district, in Western Uganda, close by the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
I visited the Kayonza at a time when the area had received extremely high rainfall. A major bridge linking the district to the rest of Uganda had been swept away. Before embarking on my journey, I inquired how long it would take me. A smiley hotel receptionist informed me that instead of 1.5 hours the journey would now take four times as long, using roads not worthy of the name. To cut a long story short; the journey was not for the weak hearted. It took us more than 6 hours, driving through the beautiful Queen Elizabeth National Park, on wild animal tracks, often passing through swollen streams.
However, on arrival to Kayonza I totally forgot all the travails. A most welcoming Marcel Asiimwe, the general manager, and his team were at hand to receive me. I was housed in a beautiful small guest house located in the centre of a tea estate. The breathtaking view lifted all weariness away.
Kayonza Growers Tea Factory has been Fairtrade certified since 1998, making it one of the oldest holders of Fairtrade certification in Africa. The factory, which prides itself for having one of the best quality teas in the country, is owned by over 600 small-scale tea farmers. On more than one occasion tea producers from the DRC have applied to join Kayonza but complications of cross border trading prevent the collaboration.
Fairtrade certification has enabled Kayonza to improve its governance and leadership structure. Last year the factory received a grant from Fairtrade Africa to fund IT training for its management and staff.
‘We are gradually modernising our operating systems and procedures,’ attests Human Resources Manager Jotham Musinguzi. ‘The training has been instrumental to improve our services to our members and customers.’
In the 1990s, a key challenge for Kayonza farmers was to deliver green leaf to the factory during the rainy season. Many farmers lost their lives trying to cross the swollen streams in the valley. Using Fairtrade Premiums, the farmers started constructing bridges on all feeder roads leading to the factory. The bridges have provided a massive boost to the region, ensuring the Kayonza factory distinguishes itself as a supplier of high quality tea across the world.
Fairtrade Africa represents African producers in the global Fairtrade system to ensure that Fairtrade standards and policy reflect their needs. Fairtrade Africa also provides prodcuers with technical, organisational and financial support. Find out more at www.fairtradeafrica.net.