Fairtrade Africa: moving towards intra-African trade

Many will recognise the blue, black and green Fairtrade logo on various products in the supermarkets. But what exactly does it mean to buy a Fairtrade product, like an apple?

“It means the apple has been produced under fair conditions as guided by the global international standards of Fairtrade,” says Mkhululi Silandela, Fairtrade Africa’s regional coordinator for southern Africa. “It also means that the environmental conditions of production have been considered and made to be convenient to the planet.”

Fairtrade Africa (a branch of Fairtrade International) is an independent non-profit organisation representing all Fairtrade-certified producers in Africa. The organisation represents over 500,000 producers across 26 countries, which depend mostly on the traditional European markets for trade. However, this market has been weakened due to the economic crisis and – for this reason – Fairtrade Africa needs to look into developing markets in Africa and Asia.

“We are trying to create more value for the producers by being innovative and focusing on intra-Africa trade,” said Silandela. “We know the limitations of that strategy but we have already made entrance between eastern and southern Africa. So that opens a new opportunity as opposed to depending on the traditional markets. We also have goals to develop markets for our producers in the East. But inter-Africa trade is our biggest goal and opportunity. South Africa is a shining example of where inter-Africa trade happens.”

Fairtrade Africa is owned by its members, who are African producer organisations certified against international Fairtrade standards. These standards include democratic decision making for small-scale farms, and empowering and protecting workers on commercial farms. For example, Fairtrade Africa ensures that adequate health and safety regulations are in place and that workers are paid fairly.

“The main thing is that when you buy a Fairtrade product there is a percentage of the price called premium which is basically a development fund that goes back to the farmers that produced the product,” says Silandela. “This is the main distinction feature of Fairtrade from all other ethical production standards.”

Statistics released in 2010 showed that Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia have the greatest number of Fairtrade farmers in the world. “East Africa is one of the forerunners in the Fairtrade system, which has long been developed up there,” explains Silandela. “Tanzania has more small-scale producer cooperatives that have actually perfected the system and understand the benefits of Fairtrade in their farming communities. South Africa, if you compare, have mostly commercial farms on the Fairtrade system, which are wine farms. The balance of the commercial versus small producer still needs to be improved but I think South Africa is coming along.”

In addition, Africa – according to 2010 statistics – has more Fairtrade farmers than the sum of all other places in the world. But what does this say about Africa? “This shows that Africa is really going to be part of the future,” answered Silandela. “It shows that Africa is the place where the market is now looking.”

Silandela added that Fairtrade Africa and their farmers are looking for investment, but not just from any investor. “Fairtrade Africa – and the Fairtrade model in general – offers a viable model for investors that want to develop Africa and its people, so they can come and play along in a fair way. But we are looking for investors who actually want to empower people and alleviate poverty in Africa through trade, not by aid.”