Profiles

Fairtrade Africa is shifting the axis

Until now, the Fairtrade model has primarily focused on addressing the north‑south imbalance in trade and consumption of certain agricultural commodities such as coffee. But in recent years, the focus of the organisation’s branches in those traditional producer markets has shifted towards south-to-south trade. Fairtrade Africa’s new Executive Director, Dr Nyagoy Nyong’o is one of the new generation of leaders in the 30-year-old movement who is trying to drive this change in the dynamics between producers and consumers around the world. Nyong’o, who took the helm of the African branch of the organisation in late 2013, says  she is still struck by the lack of awareness about the organisation in Africa as opposed to Europe. “I would like to increase our visibility and that of Fairtrade as a concept in Africa,” Nyong’o tells GCR Magazine. “In Switzerland, where I lived for four years, over 90 per cent of people I came across knew of, and had bought, products with the Fairtrade label. Here in Kenya, less than 10 per cent of the people I come across have heard of Fairtrade.” Nyong’o says she hopes to achieve more than just making African people aware of Fairtrade. She wants them to become Fairtrade consumers. “Africa has a growing middle class that needs to be tapped,” she says. But the former auditor for Fairtrade’s founding organisation, Max Havelaar, points to a range of other supply side issues that she also hopes to address in her new role. Climate change is having a direct impact on the lives and livelihoods of producers all around the world, many of whom lack the technical knowledge and resources to adapt to those changes adequately. This is a key challenge in Africa, and one that Nyong’o hopes her organisation can help producers to address. “Our members have various needs that include climate change and adaptation, capacity building in organisation and business development, better linkages with financial institutions, long-term financing and other partnerships, among others,” she says. While Fairtrade Africa itself has only a limited capacity to meet all of these challenges, Nyong’o says that the organisation does possess the connections and know-how to form strategic partnerships that will drive change in these areas. The new Executive Director also has lofty ambitions for increasing the profile of her organisation within the broader global Fairtrade movement. Working as an auditor with Max Havelaar in Switzerland for eight years, Nyong’o says it was seeing how the Fairtrade process empowered producers that stoked her passion for the movement. “From timid workers who could not previously contribute in meetings where their managers were present to those who, years later, articulate their rights without fear; small farmers having their voices heard in the running of their organisation, building schools, clinics and bridges – all made possible because of being Fairtrade certified,” she says.  While south-to-south trade is a key focus for Nyong’o, she says that market diversification is also needed to drive the concept forward. “Last year Nespresso committed to sourcing a growing proportion of its coffee from Fairtrade-certified cooperatives in Latin America, which is a partnership that will provide thousands of smallholder coffee farmers with income security,” she says. Another issue that is very close to Nyong’o’s heart is the role of women. She tells the story of Celestina, a smallholder coffee farmer in Tanzania who, like many women in her region, married a man much older than her who is now too old to work, leaving Celestina to balance the demands of the farm with raising her children. Since her community became involved with Fairtrade, they have directed the money raised through the Fairtrade premium – the extra money above the sale price of the coffee that is raised through being Fairtrade certified – to fund the Hekima Girls’ Secondary School. This school will give girls from Celestina’s community the opportunity to avoid the fate of Celestina’s generation, empowering them to take control of their lives and pursue a future that is not determined by their gender or who they marry. On a political level, Nyong’o says she is focused on achieving better outcomes for African producers by lobbying African governments to push for fair and ethical trade rules as a part of their post-2015 development framework. “I would like us to be innovative and strategic in our accountability to the membership, giving support that is holistic, relevant and meaningful,” she says. “It is only if we sustainably meet the needs of our members that their sense of ownership becomes a reality,” she says.

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