13 th Feb Fairtrade Fortnight-Meet Olivia
Olivia is a Fairtrade coffee farmer and member of Kagera Co-operative Union (KCU), a group of around 60,000 producers in north-west Tanzania.
Farmers in Olivia’s region generally own small plots of land, with an average farm size of just 0.8 hectares. Coffee is the main cash crop, grown alongside small quantities of food crops, including matoke (green bananas), cassava, beans, yams, maize and vegetables. Some also keep livestock such as cattle, pigs and chickens.
The region is characterised by poverty, with limited access to clean water, healthcare and education. Farmers have invested their Fairtrade Premium in these areas, and in supporting farmers to improve the quality of their coffee so that they can attract a better price. In addition to farming her own coffee trees, Olivia is also employed as a field officer at KCU to support training.
‘There is general poverty in the region but with training the farmers are able to rise above it. My job is to train others and help them not go hungry. If their crops can meet the specifications, the coffee gets good prices and they have a good livelihood.’
Earning enough to provide for their families is a constant balancing act for millions of smallholder farmers like Olivia. For many, cash crops like coffee provide part of their income. They also earn money from selling other food products locally, and rely on income from family members.
Cash crops can provide a significant contribution to household incomes, when a fair price is paid. However, over-reliance can also lead to food insecurity when crops fail, or the price paid doesn’t cover the costs of production.
Before Fairtrade, Olivia didn’t earn enough from coffee farming to support her family, and faced tough choices every day to try and make ends meet.
‘There are times I have really struggled and have had to work extra hard. I had to juggle 24 hours a day when the children were younger to put food on the table. If I couldn’t feed my children this would encourage them to thieve so I can’t let that happen.’
After her husband passed away in 2003, Olivia got into debt trying to feed her family as well as pay her children’s school fees.
‘I needed to spend my money on my children’s education… I have debts because of this and I have not been able to afford a tin roof on my house.’
On top of ensuring at least the Fairtrade Minimum Price is paid to farmers (calculated to cover the average sustainable cost of production), working to improve the quality of their coffee is one way Fairtrade supports farmers like Olivia to earn a better income.
‘With Fairtrade we have improved facilities here and enhanced quality and production – we couldn’t have achieved them without it.’
The Fairtrade Premium also eases the pressure on farmer incomes by investing in social projects, such as healthcare and education, which would otherwise cost money to access and often involve lots of travel.
Farmers can also invest in increasing efficiency and growing their businesses. Olivia’s co-operative needed essential infrastructure to connect farming communities and coffee production areas. KCU have invested Fairtrade Premium in roads and bridges, saving valuable time and expense for farmers in getting their coffee to market. The Fairtrade Premium has also been used to build and improve schools and health centres.
When farmers are able to process their raw commodity, they can capture more of the value of the final product. Thanks to people choosing Fairtrade coffee, KCU have even used Fairtrade Premium to help build their own instant coffee factory, the first in Tanzania.
‘My message to people in the UK is please buy more Fairtrade so you can keep remembering the farmers over here who grow the coffee.’
Image: (c) Matt Crossick