Fairtrade changes lives in Kenya
Article on the Fairtrade website: http://www.fairtrade.net/meet-the-producers-details+M5d5a2973671.html
Happier employees, higher productivity, increased sales. Since becoming Fairtrade certified in 2011, Harvest Limited’s Athi River flower farm is thriving. Harvest Limited became Fairtrade certified in 2011. Certification has helped Harvest increase sales by 30 percent and gave a boost to productivity, but most importantly the farm’s workers have launched an ambitious development plan to improve livelihoods through the Fairtrade Premium.
A rose farm and its ecosystem
Harvest, in operation for 15 years, employs about 700 people and produces over 35 million roses annually in their Athi River greenhouses. While the adjoining area is dry, dusty and has seen too little rainfall over the past years, the flower farm is surrounded by lush vegetation, flowers and trees – a result of their conservation efforts.
The Harvest Premium Committee has elected to dedicate a portion of their Fairtrade Premium toward environmental projects in their community, such as planting trees along the Athi River. The reforestation prevents soil erosion, preserves the water catchment area, and improves the local ecosystem, which has its share of crocodiles and hippos.
Indigenous trees from their fast-growing nursery are donated to the local council and municipality, schools and hospitals and sold to employees at subsidized prices, setting an example for surrounding neighbourhoods.
Big ideas taking root at Harvest
Active environmental protection is just one pillar of the Fairtrade Premium Committee’s strategy. The Committee is working on the implementation of an ambitious 5-year development plan focused on gender and environmental protection.
“Fairtrade is a life changer, and we will give this Fairtrade Premium another level of importance,” says Samuel Atieno, the Committee’s chairperson.
“If this Premium money can change the life of a worker in such a short time, turn around the life of a family, of a community, can’t this premium also change the structure of the country? In the long run we will impact Kenya and then even Africa.”
Their long-term vision was inspired by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and its 2015 successor, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in which they see their own problems reflected. In developing their plan, the committee assessed and categorized the needs and challenges of the community.
In a transparent feedback system involving the other workers, the committee identified core priorities for different groups (such as single mothers) and tried to find a holistic way to look at the worker, his or her family and the community. They developed an evaluation system to check for long-term feasibility, and seek to improve livelihoods deliberately.
Tangible achievements in just two years
The farm itself provides some essential services to their workers, such as transport and free lunch, clean water, medical treatment and childcare. Safety standards are improved and wages have been raised under the company’s existing collective bargaining agreement. Workers feel that the compliance with Fairtrade Standards has significantly improved fairness and social justice in their workplace.
Beyond these improvements, workers also receive the Fairtrade Premium – 10 percent above the purchase price on Fairtrade sales – giving them additional funds to invest as they see fit.
Despite advancements in access to education in Kenya, secondary school still requires tuition payments, which many parents cannot afford. Workers elected to invest a portion of Premium in education and 50 percent of Harvest workers have already benefitted from individual bursaries given to their children.
“This is the most important, sending your kids to school. Our future will be better, my children will be educated. Then they get a good life,” says Agnes Mulwa, a 34-year old flower harvester whose first born son now attends Secondary School. “I hope things go on like now, and then my two girls can study as well. Without Fairtrade on the farm, I have no hope to give my children education.”
Extra support such as a free supply of sanitary napkins ensures that girls can attend. In the past, girls used to stay at home or even drop out of school because they could not afford sanitary napkins. Not only has the program reduced absenteeism, but also increased girls’ performance in exams by a recorded 60 percent.
Other investments include:
A home improvement scheme providing funds to workers to start building and improving their houses; formation of women empowerment groups to collectively start businesses for extra income, including small grocery stores, pig and cattle farms, or in rabbit breeding; and education for workers to develop new skills, such as computers or how to drive.
Communities and groups set their own priorities, and can receive support. The opportunities that these social, economic and educational projects create not only improve livelihoods, but give a boost to the workers’ self-esteem.
Fairtrade Award for Best Worker’s Premium Committee in Africa
As a result of their impressive achievements in education, women’s empowerment, health and environmental sustainability, the Harvest Premium Committee earned the Fairtrade Award for Best Worker’s Premium Committee in Africa in 2014.
“It is awesome that our achievements of such a short time span have been appreciated and recognised,” says Lawrence Mwangi, the treasurer of the 12-member Premium Committee, consisting of six women and six men.
“With the Premium benefits, we are able to look beyond our work and our salaries and develop a greater vision. In terms of motivation, this keeps us going even more strongly, and we are putting in ever more effort.”
Harvest’s Fairtrade flowers indeed make a difference. They create bunches of happiness.