FAIRTRADE IN MALAWI

Fairtrade, particularly through certification, has successfully contributed to the empowerment of farmers in Malawi through the strengthening of producer organisations. Additional support has been leveraged from non-governmental organisations like Fairtrade International, TWIN and VSO. Fairtrade certified producers in Malawi also continue to get support from research organisations such as ICRISAT and the Tea Research Foundation.

Other supporters include commercial companies such as Liberation and J Sainsbury's, Illovo, the tea and sugar estates and national bodies such as the National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (NASFAM).

Fairtrade has also been instrumental in complementing the support that smallholder farmers receive from government in accessing international markets. Since its introduction in Malawi in 2004, Fairtrade has supported over 12,400 smallholder farmers by facilitating entry into the global market of three Fairtrade products namely tea, sugar and ground nuts. Currently, 25% of the annual national sugar production is produced from sugar cane that is grown by smallholder farmers belonging to the Kasinthula Cane Growers Association (KCGA). Similarly, 9% of the annual 46,000 tonnes of export tea is sold into the Fairtrade market.

Farmers engaged with Fairtrade have been able to not only increase their market share, but have also received support in dealing with unexpected challenges. A case in point was the scare of aflatoxin in the 1970s which significantly decreased Malawi's groundnut exports. As a response, once Fairtrade entered Malawi, it provided support to groundnut smallholders and helped them to re-engage in international markets with sales generating an income of $527,000.

In addition to market access and growth, Fairtrade helps address food insecurity in Malawi mainly through three channels: i) by helping to secure a decent and reliable income (through the promotion of long-term contracts, access to credit sources and support to income diversification); ii) strengthening farmers" organisations to access resources needed by their community to improve food security; and iii) helping to improve a family's access to food by promoting the expansion of land grown to food and cash crops.

In assessing the future of Fairtrade in Malawi, the appetite for "ethically and sustainably" sourced products in Europe continues to grow and it is also making inroads in emerging markets including South Africa, Brazil, Mexico and India. The retail sales of Fairtrade products in 2009 were 3.4 billion Euro, with a 13% positive annual growth. It is clear that the companies behind this growth see that investing in the sustainability of supply chains is a win-win situation, both for European companies (that need to ensure reliable sourcing and also to respond to increasing societal and consumer demands), but also for producers in the South. Producers in Malawi can reap the benefits of this global trend.