Three Tales of Development – Kasinthula Cane Growers Limited

Over the last week I had the privilege of visiting three very similar and yet entirely different projects. The stories of each illustrate parts of the reason I am passionate about working in ‘development;’ the good, the bad and the inspiring. The first story is about the Kasinthula Cane Growers Limited, a Fair Trade certified sugar cane cooperative of farmers in rural Chikwawa.

Kasinthula Cane Growers Limited

A few kilometers from the Boma where I work at the District Water Office, there is a cooperative of farmers – Kasinthula Cane Growers Limited – who all farm Certified Fair Trade Sugar Cane. Fair Trade is a certification that ensures that the workers who produce Fair Trade Certified goods have fair working and living conditions, are guaranteed a wage which covers the price of sustainable production, and benefit from a fair trade premium. This fair trade premium is what brought me to Kasinthula.

To explain quickly, when a Fair Trade product is bought, the buyer pays a minimum fair trade price and a fair trade premium, this premium is then returned to the producing cooperative for investment in social, economic or environmental development (http://www.fairtrade.net).

Sign for the Kasinthula Cane Growers Limited. Notice that this is a cooperative of small holder farmers each farming about 2.5 hectares of sugar cane.

At Kasinthula, the fair trade premium has been reinvested in drilling boreholes, electrifying farmers’ homes, installing taps in villages, building a clinic and investing in the expansion of the cooperative. My work with the District Water Office originally took me to Kasinthula to learn more about the procedure used by the cooperative to site boreholes and water infrastructure but once there, I was so compelled by the stories of the farmers that I returned to learn more.

The cooperative originally formed in 1998 when the farmers from Phase 1 (they are currently planning the Phase 3 expansion) converted from growing maize to growing sugar cane. At the time, the farmers made the switch in order to reduce their vulnerability to droughts since maize is highly dependent on rains whereas with sugar cane, the farmers would benefit from irrigation systems.

However, the debt from the loans required to make the conversion were crippling and although sugar cane is a commercial crop whereas maize is a subsistence crop (aka. only produced to feed your family) the farmers were barely making enough money to get by.

In 2003, the plan to become Fair Trade Certified was conceived and by 2004 Kasinthula received Fair Trade Certification status.  Since 2004, in addition to the small advances the farmers receive until the loans are paid back, the farmers benefit from the Fair Trade Premium.

I recently spent a day with farmers and members of the Fair Trade Committee learning all about being a Fair Trade sugar cane farmer. In the morning, we sat in a circle under the shade of a tree and they told me about their lives before becoming Fair Trade Certified and their lives as they are now.

Mr. Chikangnkabe and Mr. Chipangula, farmers and members of the Fair Trade Committee at Kasinthula. They told me all about how their lives have changed completely from Fair Trade and how excited they were for the future.

Members of the Fair Trade Committee that manage the Fair Trade Premium Investment in their communities.

I asked the farmers how their lives had changed, they told me their children now go to school – not just primary school but to good secondary schools in some of the main towns; they now live in better homes and they are able to look forward to the future knowing that the Fair Trade Premium will continue to come in future years.

Sitting under that tree speaking with the farmers and then interviewing them one by one, I was struck with the realization that these farmers and their children had prospects for a better future. It is indescribable to speak with someone whose life has changed almost entirely due to one single event and to know that all it takes to sustain that change – to continue to create opportunities for them and farmers just like them in Chikwawa – is for people around the world to purchase their sugar.

The last question I asked each of the farmers was, “What would you like people in Canada to know about Fair Trade?” The answer was the same every time – being a Fair Trade Certified farmer has changed my life; please buy our sugar so we can continue to develop our communities. Not one asked for money, charity, handouts or help – all they asked for was the chance to make a living off of their farms and work together to improve their communities.

Here is the mind blowing part: all it takes for us to support that is to buy ethically. We don’t have to donate hundreds of dollars or spend hours advocating to our MPs; all we have to do is take an extra couple of seconds and spend a few extra cents in the grocery store to truly change people’s lives. I have seen the proof, I have spoken with the farmers and visited their homes, and I know I will never take Fair Trade for granted again.

If you are interested in purchasing ethically, here are some great sites to learn more and find products Ethical OceanTen Thousand Villages, and TransFair Canada.


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8 responses to this post.

  1. I love this post.

    How can you (we) translate this to the Canadian public? I hope you took some videos. And if you haven’t, go back and take some.

    David

    Reply

  2. Posted by Danny Howard on July 9, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    I’ll vouch for their sugar! I bought some (under the brand “wholesome sweeteners”) and love it! Thanks Lauren for connecting us to this co-op direct.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Craig Sandy on July 9, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    I agree with David, then post them on You Tube, with a water mark.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Cathy Sandy on July 9, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    Keep up the good work. I am letting my friends know about your thoughts on Free Trade and the effects on the lives of the people with whom you come in contact.

    Reply

  5. I have been taking videos and I hope to put them together into a video format as well as put them on youtube when I get back.

    The plan is to make the photos, stories and quotes all available to all of EWB to use in outreach events and for as much of the public to see them as possible.

    Reply

  6. Posted by Cheryl Hockin on July 23, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    It is great to hear success stories like this one. I hope that you can include this sort of message in your school programs back here. If you can convince a few schools to start promoting the fair trade products then you have four or five hundred students taking the message home.
    Part of the success of informing people is having it come from an interesting and passionate speaker such as yourself. I can’t wait to have you in to my school to share your wonderful messages.

    Reply

  7. Posted by David McColl on July 27, 2010 at 4:05 am

    Woohoo FairTrade rocks… plus MPs still get the message. I’m loving this perspective!

    Reply

  8. It is already included at the end of our school presentations but I am not sure if it is really hitting home. Any ideas on how to make students grab hold of the message and share it?

    Reply

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