Kenya: Fair trade improves small-scale farmers’ lives (by Sawa Pius, for Farm Radio Weekly)

| February 3, 2014

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Like many small-scale farmers, Daniel Saina found it difficult to pay for his children’s education and take care of his grandchildren. The farmer, in his late seventies, lives in the Nandi Hills area of the Rift Valley, about 250 kilometres northwest of Nairobi. The area hosts several multinational tea companies which produce and sell their tea in such large quantities that smaller growers find it difficult to compete.

But in 2004, Mr. Saina and more than 6000 other small-scale tea growers formed the Sireet Outgrowers Empowerment and Producers Company Limited, known simply as Sireet. As a collective, they were able to get a loan to buy tea estates and five processing factories, and start to market their tea collectively.

The community-based tea company has benefitted from having their produce certified as fair trade. Before a product is fair trade-certified, it must meet rigorous standards. The standards focus on improving the working and living conditions of farming communities, and promote a more environment- and people-friendly way of farming.

Victor Biwott, the manager of Sireet, recognizes the importance of fair trade certification. When a company is certified, international buyers pay a premium price.

Mr. Biwott says, “A tea buyer who buys tea that has been certified as fair trade at the international market pays the market price … and then [makes] an additional payment.”

The additional payment, or premium, is usually half a US cent per kilo of tea, so Sireet’s annual income depends on how much fair trade tea they sell. Currently, Europe and Asia buy most fairly-traded tea, but efforts are being made to promote it in Africa. Mr. Biwott says the premium helps the community finance social ventures and other activities to improve their lives.

Wison Tuwei is the chairman of Sireet. He says that, since they were certified as a small producer fair trade organization in April 2006, Sireet has received premiums of over 135 million Kenyan shillings, or more than $1.5 million US. The community has spent half these funds on social projects and development activities. Both Mr. Tuwei and Mr. Biwott urge other groups of farmers to meet the fair trade certification standards.

Sireet has used the premiums to help build schools, health centres and water tanks, educate growers’ children, build roads, and plant trees to protect the environment. There is also money to pay for security against theft of produce.

It is not only tea growers who benefit from fair trade certification. Many small-scale coffee growers in central Kenya produce fair trade-certified coffee beans, and enjoy better prices and premiums. Like the tea growers, they receive extra money as a group rather than selling as individual farmers. The coffee growers also use the premiums to improve their livelihoods.

Over a period of five years, Sireet’s farmers devoted about one Kenyan shilling from each kilogram of tea they sold to buying their tea plantations and processing factories. With these contributions, they were able to make the purchase.

Mr. Saina and the other farmers feel they own the company, and that makes them happy. He says: “Because of the better price from our buyers, we have been able to improve our lives by buying cattle [and] building good houses, and we get trainings on how to [farm] without using toxic chemicals. We have also been taught how to conserve our environment.”

For more information on fair trade, read Notes to broadcasters on fair trade at: (FRW #207, July 2012)