Having control over seed is the essence of Fairtrade. Fairtrade is not only about pricing. It is about farmers’ ownership over agriculture. Without seed there is no agriculture. The most basic human right is control over seed.
Having control over seed is the essence of Fairtrade. Fairtrade is not only about pricing. It is about farmers’ ownership over agriculture. Without seed there is no agriculture. The most basic human right is control over seed.
Workers gather tea on the Fairtrade certified Burnside Tea Estate in India. A new and updated Fairtrade Hired Labour Standard will bring greater benefits to the over 170,000 workers on plantations and estates throughout the Fairtrade system.
Interview with Pravakar Meher, Project Director, Pratima
Pratima is about to become the second Fairtrade cotton producer organization in India to transition from contract production (whereby an exporter initially holds the Fairtrade certificate while farmers are organizing) to a full-fledged, farmer-owned small producer organization. Fairtrade International’s Reykia Fick caught up with Pravakar at the Textile Sustainability Conference in Istanbul.
“The most interesting part about Fairtrade for the farmers is leadership and ownership. It is a dream for them, owning their own organization and commanding all the responsibilities. This dream is about to come into effect.
“We’ve been three-and-a-half years in Fairtrade. Normally Fairtrade talks about a transformation from contract production to small producer organization in six years. We’ve done it in only three-and-a-half.
“It’s been great to be a part of Fairtrade. Producers are really enjoying being a part of it. We are setting an example for government to follow in our path. We are ensuring a minimum support price, which is so important but the government hasn’t yet been able to implement.
“Right now we have a kharif crop, which means it is rain-fed so we only have one cotton harvest in the year during the rainy season. Resources are very limited for the producers and many don’t have any other source of income.
“Now we are planning water projects, including plastic pipes that would give drip irrigation to the cotton fields. Then the farmers could have a second crop, and we could stop the migration of farmers away from the region.
“My message to consumers: Buy more Fairtrade so we can develop more!”
Photo: Pravakar (center) with Dr. Shreekant S. Patil, Principle Scientist Cotton Breeding at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad (left) and Ram Prasad Sana of Chetna Organic (right) at the Textile Sustainability Conference.
Fairtrade International’s Reykia Fick met with the Fairtrade cotton cooperative Chetna Organic’s CEO, Arun Ambatipudi and Technical Head (Entomology), Ram Prasad Sana at the Textile Sustainability Conference in Istanbul. Photo by Vipul Kulkarni.
“Having control over seed is the essence of Fairtrade. Fairtrade is not only about pricing. It is about farmers’ ownership over agriculture. Without seed there is no agriculture. The most basic human right is control over seed.”
So says Arun Ambatipudi of Chetna Organic when we meet at the global Textile Sustainability Conference in Istanbul last week. Everyone from hip clothing brands to factory owners to scientists have come together to discuss how to make the clothing we wear in harmony with nature.
But perhaps no organization present embodies this vision of sustainability more than Fairtrade and organic certified cotton cooperative Chetna Organic. For Chetna Organic, Fairtrade is just the beginning.
Chetna is at the heart of the fight to preserve non-GM cotton in India. More than 90% of all cotton in India is genetically modified. And much of the remaining cotton is hybrid and thus does not produce seeds that can be replanted. This means farmers are stuck buying their cotton seeds year after year.
“Seed is the most vital input. Almost 50% of farmer’s expenditure in cotton goes towards buying seeds. There are even times where the seed companies create artificial seed shortages to drive up prices,” Arun explains.
Chetna has partnered with international and local government research institutes for their participatory seed multiplication and seed conservation programmes. The scientists are identifying and developing natural varieties of cottonseed suitable for the local growing conditions and organic agriculture. Chetna is training their member farmers to save cotton seeds to plant for the next season.
The focus on seed is much more than a vague philosophical notion of sustainability. It is a lifeline for farmers. According to Chetna’s Ram Prasad Sana:
“When the cost of cultivation is high, farmers are not able to get their investment back and the result is suicide or migration. Low cost cultivation is vital for farmers, and this means organic and sustainable methods of cultivation.”
Control over seed is furthermore bound together with control for women.
“Women have always been the custodians who have protected seed. This has steadily disappeared. We are now working to revive and preserve this practice through developing women seed guardians. When women become seed guardians, it means women have a greater say.
“As men usually make the decisions, we are lobbying in favor of female control over farming. With the Fairtrade-supported interventions in place, we are now witnessing their husbands slowly starting to support them.”
“Our interest in Fairtrade is to move towards being women-centric, how women can also have more control within cooperative structures though it requires investing substantial time,” says Arun.
Arun tells me that along with seed saving, one of Chetna’s goals is “reduction in drudgery for women”. Women now spend a lot of their time on menial, laborious tasks. For example, a woman can spend three to four hours each day just carrying water.
“If we can ensure faster access to water for women, then women can use that time more productively in educating their children, managing local enterprises, etc. The cost of women carrying water is extremely high on India’s GDP.”
Chetna is working to provide appropriate tools for farm women – pushcarts so women don’t have to carry heavy loads, lighter and better quality gardening tools that don’t need to be sharpened as often.
“Women usually squat to weed with sickles, so we came up with the idea of promoting a weeding tool which resembles a golf stick. Women can just swing it back and forth from a standing position. It is much faster for them and doesn’t hurt their back.”
Arun concludes: “We know that the situation won’t change overnight. But we are seeing successes, of women seed guardians gaining respect and decision power.”
Find out more about Chetna Organic’s seed guardian programme here.
Read a past blog post about Chetna Organic’s Premium projects here.
Photo of Fairtrade cotton farmer members of Chetna Organic
Raju Ganapathy is a Fairtrade Liaison Officer in India. In his work, he provides training and guidance to Fairtrade farmers and workers to help them enter Fairtrade and become successful. Raju writes about a recent training below.
Normally when I talk about advantages of Fairtrade with farmers I highlight key aspects like the Fairtrade Minimum Price and the Fairtrade Premium. But to my surprise at a recent meeting, I learned that the benefit list can grow to double digits when explained by farmer leaders.
It happened on 21st August at a meeting with farmer leaders from groups affiliated with the Fairtrade producer association Wayanad. FTPA Wayanad has been a certified producer of Robusta coffee since 2010 and has a total farmer membership of 2,140. However their performance in supplying Fairtrade coffee has been below par and this concern led us to organize a meeting with leaders to review and explain the vision-mission of FTPA Wayanad.
The producer organization is at a crossroad and one of the roads is the FTPA way – to continue working together to succeed. Whether each group of farmers really wants to travel this road had to be answered. This was the question posed. I invited them to share their perspective and the following list of benefits emerged:
The list was so telling, it rejuvenated all those present and made the group resolve that they would strive to fulfill the demand from the buyer the coming season. FTPA leadership decided to take this message to all the clusters by mid- September so that all farmer members can understand the value of FTPA membership and make their participation in FTPA and Fairtrade meaningful.
According to an interview with Tesco boss Philip Clark this weekend, this may be the start of the end of the era of cheap food – with a recognition that to keep farmers farming, and wanting to sell to the UK, we may have to start paying higher prices for our food. We should see that as good – not bad - news, says Barbara Crowther, Director of Policy & Public Affairs.
“What’s the most important change you’d like to see in your region?” I asked the cotton farmers of ‘Pratibha - Vasudha Jaivik Krishi Kalyan Samiti’. “We wish our children could get better education and communicate in English one day,” they replied. So I trained them on Fairtrade Premium project planning, using a school project as an example.
That session is now three years back. Since then, these cotton farmers have come a long way. They saved their Fairtrade Premium and set up “Vasudha Vidya Vihar”: their own school to impart quality education to poor children from farming community. After starting in 2010 with very basic infrastructure and just a small number of children, the school now imparts quality education at a reasonable fee to 425 students from very remote villages of Karhi, Khargone district in Central India. The school now generates enough revenue to meet its operational expenses.
“So, what is the plan now?” I asked during our latest review meeting. ‘We want to develop this school up to degree college level” the farmers answered. “And what if your kids decide not to work on the farms when they are highly educated?” I ask, slightly provocatively. “They would become better farmers and apply new techniques on farms once they are educated’, is the confident reply.
The farmers are concerned that they might not have enough funds to realize this vision in the short term, due to falling Fairtrade cotton sales in their region. Nevertheless, their commitment and determination to make it happen is plain to see.
Anup Singh is a Fairtrade liaison officer in the North of India.
Many cotton farmers around the world are benefitting from Fairtrade, but struggling to get enough sales to drive bigger change in their communities. We are working on a new model for Fairtrade cotton, which will lead to allow more companies to engage with us and mean more sales for farmers. More news on this later this year!
Demonstrating leaf rot
Did you know that coffee is the second most important product after tea for Asian Fairtrade producers? Several Indian producers sold Fairtrade Robusta coffee for the first time in 2012. Now they are keen to offer quality coffee in 2013 too. At the Asia Pacific Coffee Forum for Fairtrade producers held last year in Indonesia, Indian producers identified training on coffee production and quality as one of the priority needs. This follow-up training session was one small but very significant move to help achieve that.
More than 40 farmers from three Fairtrade coffee co-ops met at a coffee research station in Wayanad District, Kerala to get trained by the Coffee Board Scientists on the theme “Seed to Cup.”
Over the course of the day, various scientists gave farmers all kinds of information and tips. Mr Prakasan revealed that productivity in Kerala is below the national average and just half of the potential. Dr Suresh Kumar explained how simple interventions like timely pruning, grafting techniques and irrigation can vastly improve yields. Dr Vijayalakshmi talked of pests and diseases and informed the farmers of simple steps to ward them off. Mr George talked about post-harvesting techniques and highlighted how bad practices in drying and storage influence coffee quality. Outturn of coffee, some bad practices like excessive pruning, requirement of shade etc were also covered during the discussion.
Every farmer took something different out of the session. Annakutty liked the information provided on pests and diseases, while Sudha emphasized the relevance of grafting techniques to the farmers. George was particularly keen to organize a training for his farmers on post harvest techniques. Vineesh hoped that this training is only a beginning and talked of a more frequent training from the coffee board. All the farmers groups were keen to take up the offer to get their soil tested by the coffee board, and to receive their recommendations for nutrient application.
The organic farmers pointed out some shortcomings like lack of suitable information for mixed cropping systems and not enough stress on organic farming research. There is always room for improvement!
As the aroma of South Indian filter coffee filled the air, a drizzle brought the curtain down on the program. Meanwhile, I mentally started scheduling more coffee trainings in 2013 to benefit more farmers….
Raju Ganapathy is a Fairtrade liaison officer in India, supporting farmers to join and benefit from Fairtrade.
Progress is incredibly slow at the UN climate talks right now. Smallholder farmers don’t have time to wait - they have to act now to secure their livelihoods. Tomy Mathew of Fair Trade Alliance Kerala in India explains how Fairtrade helps farmers to deal with climate change.
Fairtrade farmers in Kerala are growing a diverse array of spices, coffee and coconuts all on the same small farm, ensuring that they are more resilient to the effects of the changing climate.
Sweet Success and Sugary too!!
Raju Ganapathy, a Fairtrade Liaison officer, reports on a sweet Fairtrade success story in India.
I came to Dharwar, a small city, overnight from Bangalore, the buzzling capital of Karnataka. For the first time I conducted a group training on Fairtrade for the representatives of seven sugar producer organizations.
Fairtrade sugar is pretty new to India. These seven producers got inspired to join Fairtrade through the Khadrolli Primary Agriculture Credit Cooperative Sangha, the first Indian sugar producer to gain Fairtrade certification, back in 2010. They were already organic certified, giving them a stepping stone to progress to Fairtrade. In addition, their trader and exporter, Pure Life has provided them with good organizational assistance.
In 2011 Khadrolli cooperative received an amazing Fairtrade Premium of 110,000 Euros from the sale of 2318 MT of sugar. No wonder the farmers extolled the virtues of the program when I asked them about their views on Fairtrade.
Bhartesh Patil was clear that “Fairtrade certification, by providing premium, strongly supports our organic intervention.” Kandu added that “Fairtrade certification provides an opportunity to create a brand name for both the Pure Life and the sugar producers on the international market.”
The next day I was able to visit Khadrolli society to see first-hand how they have used their Premium. They showed me the tractor they have purchased, along with the chaff cutter machine, which will help them to turn harvest waste into organic compost.
The society has also supplied farmers with a kit of state of the art bio-fertilizers. One of the farmers, Irappa, enthusiastically listed the benefits : wider girth, taller crop and greener sugarcane. Two other farmers, Subhash and Hammanavar, reported that this organic manure completely substitutes any chemical fertilizers, savings cost, labor and time. As I was leaving I asked Mr Gambol their manager to track sugar content in the coming harvest to see if it also increased as a result. I wound up my trip happier that Fairtrade had brought some tangible positive results to this farming community.
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” ― Winston Churchill
Such is the case with Fairtrade grapes from India … a fruit of one Fairtrade importer’s persistent efforts.
Fruit importer Univeg has been trying to launch Fairtrade grapes in the UK since 2007, but it has been quite a long journey. First they had to find suitable producers. Then they had to ensure the whole supply chain was Fairtrade certified. Not to mention quality issues, and the extremely short shelf-life grapes have.
Over in India, one of the Fairtrade cooperatives I support was also having problems. Agrocel Pure and Fair Fruits and Nuts Growers Association (APFGA) was hardly selling any of their Fairtrade raisins, making it unviable for them to remain certified. As a last resort, a few of the farmers decided to produce Fairtrade grapes. Could this be the supply Univeg was looking for?
There were still failures to overcome: APFGA’s first Fairtrade grape crop in 2011 was too poor quality to be exported. But they didn’t give up. Thanks to support from Univeg and another Fairtrade buyer, Euro Fruits, APFGA farmers tried again in 2012 … and have been successful. The first batch of grapes hit UK supermarket shelves a few months ago, and were praised for their top-quality.
APFGA has already started reaping the fruits of this success. From their Fairtrade Premium they have purchased raisin packing materials collectively and managed to bargain 20% savings on this purchase for their members. APFGA members are all smiles on their new prospects.
“It is like a new life to our cooperative. Now we can persuade our other farmers to also allocate part of their crop for Fairtrade table grapes and part for Fairtrade raisins, and continue to be a part of the Fairtrade system,” says an excited Prakash Sangave, APFGA member and Fairtrade table grapes grower.
Contibuted by Anup Singh, a Fairtrade liaison officer in India. If you’d like to source Fairtrade table grapes from India, contact him here.
There are over 50 Fairtrade liaison officers worldwide. Learn more about their work on our website.
Hardeep Singh, President of Shahdevpur Village Club/Sunstar Rice in North India, pictured with his wife Anrandeep and relative, Shanti.
After joining the Fairtrade programme we had a better quality of inputs, such as seed and fertilizers. And the Fairtrade Premium enabled us to build this beautiful road which means we can access the farms much more easily. We got a better market price, plus an organic bonus of 400 rupees per 100 kg. The rice is also collected straight from our house; we don’t have to go to the market to sell it any more.
Before joining Fairtrade the quality of the groups rice wasn’t high. One reason for this was that they used rice from the previous harvest to plant as seed for the next year, which resulted in low quality yields. Now Sunstar provides them with the inputs each year on an interest free loan.
The Shahdevpur Village Club used part of its Fairtrade Premium to build an access road to the rice fields and to set up an organic composting unit. Sunstar has its own organic seed production to produce better quality seeds. In the future Hardeep his village would like to use the Fairtrade Premium to build a computer centre for the children.
© Didier Gentilhomme
Get Your Fairtrade Rice & Raisins Here! Stories from Biofach
I love the way Fairtrade makes the world that bit smaller; that it connects people across continents and cultures, all with a common goal of making global trade fairer.
Like me and Himanshu Baghel. I never thought I would see him again, and yet there he was, just a few stands down from us at the Biofach fair.
Himanshu works for Agrocel, Indian producers of Fairtrade and organic basmati rice. He helped organize my trip to their farms just over a year ago, calmed me down on the phone when I was stranded at Delhi airport. I walked through their paddy fields, saw the rice being processed and bagged up. I watched farmers using laser-land leveller and rice-sifting machinery that they had bought with the Fairtrade Premium.
I was obviously curious to hear how Agrocel had developed since our last encounter. Good news - their Fairtrade sales have increased to around 60 percent of production. But Himanshu is determined to achieve more.
“We are happy with the Fairtrade system, the farmers are happy but what we need is more market,” he tells me. “There is so much potential for doing good with the farmers, but we need more sales to do that”.
To help achieve this, Agrocel are encouraging farmers to diversify into other products. Raisins are their latest offering. But finding a Fairtrade buyer is now the problem. Their raisins are relatively expensive compared to other countries, and rather pale in colour. But I can vouch for the taste, and the great work that is behind it.
So who’s interested in buying?
Vijayalakshimi Rajesh is a determined woman.
Under her leadership, Phalada Agro has grown from helping organic farmers improve soil fertility to an international supplier of high-quality Indian organic products.
Fairtrade producers are benefitting from Phalada’s success. Seeing the international demand for Fairtrade certified spices, Vijayalakshimi started sourcing from Fairtrade producers in South India. “In the first year, we sold 1500kg of Fairtrade vanilla to the US alone”, Vijayalakshimi tells me proudly.
Rainwater harvesting to conserve water resources, sheds for drying spices to ensure better quality, and a school for a local orphanage are just some of the projects Phalada has introduced – partly funded by the Fairtrade Premium.
Now Phalada is also exporting to European markets. Vijayalakshimi also plans to add new product lines, such as coffee in 2012 – and get more of the farmers she works with Fairtrade certified.
But it’s not just the international market that’s of interest to Vijayalakshimi . India was “Country of the Year” at this year’s Biofach trade fair - a sign of India’s growing recognition as a supplier, and consumer, of organic goods. Phalada has now launched a range of organic herbs and spices for the Indian market too. So are Indian consumers also interested in Fairtrade products? When I ask Vijayalakshimi she doesn’t seem so sure that the moment has come - yet. But one thing is certain: once the time is right she will certainly seize the opportunity.
After my first days in the North of Delhi, I travelled to laid back Rayagada, a small city situated in Orissa; this rather rural state is situated on the shores of the Bay of Bengal and considered as the ‘Indian cotton belt’. Together with Sureel, Liaison Officer-India, we visited Agrocel, a cotton farmers’ group.
During the first day, we spent some time with the farmers to review the achievements of the past months. We discussed their challenges and their Fairtrade Premium projects (they received about INR 300,00 last year). We brought them some copies of the brochure ‘Fairtrade and you’ translated in Oriya, the language spoken in Orissa. Although the farmers understand Hindi, the national language, they were very happy to receive a Fairtrade document in their own language.
On the next day, some of the 600 farmers of Agrocel proudly showed us their latest Fairtrade Premium investment, a water pump. Since the cultivation of cotton requires a lot of water to irrigate the fields, they had to rent this equipment in the past, a cost that cut down their margins. They now have their own water pump, which gives them more flexibility and a better income; besides reducing their costs of production. They can also use the water pump for secondary crops, such as maize, paddy and vegetables. They told us that they have now doubled their income thanks to the water pump and the secondary crops. Agrocel farmers are very enthusiastic about their Premium projects and do not lack of ideas for the coming years: they are now planning to build bio-fertilizer facilities, latrines and a small solar electricity plant for the villages.
We couldn’t leave the village without paying our respects to Ganesha, the famous Hindu God currently being celebrated throughout India. In every village there is a temporary colorful altar, beautifully decorated with offerings, incense, and lit up at night with hundreds of neon lights. I even received for the occasion my first ‘tika’, the red dot on the forehead!
Xavier Huchet, Head of Asia in Fairtrade’s Producer Services and Relations Unit, recently visited tea, rice and cotton producers in India with with Liaison Officer Anup Singh. Fairtrade International has a network of over 50 Liaison Officers around the world who provide support and training to producers.