Staff at Fairtrade pioneer Twin tell Anna Scott that empowering women is just good business sense.
Women don’t only face a glass ceiling in corporations. In farming communities across Africa, women play an active role at all stages of the agricultural production of commodities that include coffee and cocoa. However, when it comes to transporting crops to market and completing the sale, men generally complete these tasks, thereby retaining control over household income.
These are the findings of Empowering Women Farmers in Agricultural Value Chains, a report from Twin, an ethical trading supply chain charity, that says businesses are unaware of the value women provide in ensuring that products are consistently safe and of high quality and taste.
In other words they can provide added value to the commodities supply chain, which buyers can take advantage of while also ensuring their supply chains are ethical. Empowering thse women can also act as a unique selling point for a product sold thousands of miles away.
On International Women’s Day earlier in March this year, Sainsbury’s – in partnership with Twin – launched the first ‘grown by women’ coffee on mainstream shelves in the UK. The fully traceable Kopakama Ejo Heza Fairtrade Ground Coffee carries a premium to support a co-operative of women growers, many affected by the Tutsi Genocide in Rwanda in 1994, when they lost their husbands and faced difficulties earning a living.
Quite aside from the ethical and socially responsible motivations behind buying a product from these co-operatives, for a retailer like Sainsbury’s the high quality final product also appeals.
Working with suppliers in countries that have experienced conflict is “part of the DNA” of Twin, says its managing director, Nicolas Mounard. “The Democratic Republic of Congo is another example,” he says. “In 2007-2008, it was one of our most important value chains, providing 15 to 20 per cent of our total volumes. It’s a difficult area, but exciting. It’s innovative to offer [a product] from that region.”
But to get to the stage where world buyers are able to get value sourcing products from such regions is challenging. Tackling this, Twin assists predominantly African smallholder producer operations in three commodities (coffee, cocoa and nuts). While it is present across Asia and Latin America, 70 per cent of its projects are based in Africa.
The charity’s trading arm, Twin Trading, is a limited guarantee company that trades directly with producers. All its profits are reinvested in Twin projects, including assisting suppliers with traceability, quality management systems, Fairtrade and organic certification and sustainability.
The charity’s work has led Harriet Lamb, chief executive of Fairtrade International to call Twin “a hero of our fair trade movement, with fantastic expertise in the building and strengthening of small farmer organisations, and development of the most innovative business models”.
Six pillars of support
One such innovative business model is the fairtrade chocolate, Divine, of which it owns 42.3 per cent (see panel). Twin worked with a co-operative of cocoa farmers in Ghana to establish the chocolate bar in 1998. The co-op, Kuapa Kokoo, has 65,000 members and trades its own cocoa with the state-owned Cocoa Marketing Company. It owns 45 per cent of Divine. The idea is that farmers can be empowered, women’s participation increased and the environmentally friendly cultivation of cocoa developed.
These kinds of motivations make up the six pillars that represent how Twin assists suppliers: finance management, governance, quality, gender, environment and access to market. “We have an holistic approach,” says Mounard, “we set a programme for farmers implementing these six pillars – they can’t work on only one without considering the rest – they are all interconnected.”
In Africa quality is the most important barrier for farmers. There is the potential for high quality coffee, but harvesting it is very difficult, says Mounard. “There are lots of issues: soil fertility and intense use of herbicides, erosion, agro-forestry, climate change. In Ghana for example, the yield of coffee beans is an issue because of very old trees, planted 60, 70 sometimes 80 years ago. Trees that are between five and 50 years old tend to yield the most,” he says. “We would expect 400kg of coffee beans per hectare, compared with 700-1,000kg per hectare in Latin America.”
Another issue is the poor infrastructure in many African countries. “If you look at Rwanda, Malawi and Uganda, getting the product out of the country is a challenge, particularly when some countries don’t have direct access to the sea,” Mounard says.
The producer partnerships that Twin engages in with local farmers aim to address these issues, using the six pillars approach. “In Ghana we have a model farm project that aims to tackle low yield by implementing sustainable farming techniques, rejuvenating cocoa trees and developing a better understanding of skills,” Mounard says. “We have literacy programmes for farmers, made up of basic training programmes in reading and writing, then that learning is used to better manage the cocoa farm and implement best agricultural practice.”
Corporate gender policies
But Twin’s work isn’t just about helping suppliers. It also partners with processors and consumer brands, what it calls ‘ethical supply chain facilitators’. This is where gender comes in. “Gender can create value in the supply chain,” Mounard says.
“We would say to buyers: ‘If you want to improve your value or quality, work with female farmers.’ The gender work we do is directly connected to the product and value chain.”
The charity recommends that businesses develop corporate gender policies recognising the role of women farmers, workers and differentiated products to promote women’s empowerment.
More generally Twin has involved buyer organisations in building a supply chain to these regions. “We worked as a trading partner with Pret A Manger on its Paris coffee supply chain to create a certified coffee,” Mounard explains. The sandwich chain finances the project, and the charity works on a training programme with young coffee farmers aimed at making them more entrepreneurial.
“We also have a project with Marks & Spencer about water management – a big issue in coffee production, which uses large amounts of water.”
All of Twin’s projects aim to convince retailers to adopt holistic approaches to supply chains.
“It’s about building a business case of a fully traceable supply chain for our customers,” Mounard says. “We build up the business case around local initiatives – we have to take a bottom up approach.”
Equally, buyers need to brief organisations such as Twin about their expectations of Fairtrade commodities. “What do they anticipate,” he asks, “a change in volumes, differentiation for that category, raising their profile, generating income for farmers?”
For buyers wanting to take gender and diversity initiatives into account before sourcing fairtrade goods, Twin’s projects play a vital role.
Fairtrade’s ‘unique’ products
The green, black and blue stamp of the Fairtrade symbol is a familiar sight on the UK’s supermarket shelves, adorning a range of products.
Seventy eight per cent of consumers recognise it, according to the Fairtrade Foundation. Twenty years after its launch by six charities, sales of Fairtrade products reached £1.57 billion in the UK alone. Globally, over 4,500 products have been certified by the Foundation, and even brands like Cadbury sell Fairtrade-branded products. It’s become big business But it’s also led to the launch of smaller, 100 per cent Fairtrade products and brands, whose popularity has increased. Divine chocolate, for example, was launched in 1998 as the first Fairtrade chocolate bar aimed at the UK mass market. It is now sold in numbers in countries across the world.
But such products are still at the mercy of consumer demand. “One challenge is explaining why [a consumer] should buy Divine rather than Cadbury or Lindt,” says Nicolas Mounard, managing director of Twin, which helped set the brand up with a Ghana-based cocoa co-operative.
“It’s about quality – my product is better than the competition – but the brand goes beyond Fairtrade certification. We engage in multiple areas of work and need to explain that to shoppers so they can make their choice in less than a minute. It’s balancing complexity with the simplicity of the message.”