Fresh vegetables: giving a voice to farmers and workers
For many years Traidcraft Exchange has researched the impact of the UK’s food sourcing practices. This included a detailed study on fresh vegetables – a rapidly growing source of export income for several African countries. Read the report ‘Fresh Perspectives’
This work highlighted the challenges faced by small-scale farmers in east Africa who grow green beans for the UK market. The prices they receive for their products change unpredictably and frequent last minute variations to the volume purchased are common. As a result farmers are not earning the income they expect, and sometimes make a loss. Workers, many of them women, are forced work late at night making it very difficult to arrange care for their children. In addition, high levels of waste are created as beans that cannot be sold are left to rot.
Following on from this research, Traidcraft Exchange engaged entities across every stage of the supply chain: from the smallholder farmers who grow the beans, to the workers who pack them for export, to the export company and finally the UK supermarket which sells the beans.
Farmers and workers were given training and support, to become more aware of their rights and better able to negotiate a fairer deal.
Critical elements of our work included meetings at which representatives of farmers and workers sat down with company representatives and explained the impact of, for example, last minute changes to schedules. This resulted in the supermarket making some changes to how they purchase beans, and the exporter also implemented changes.
As a result of these meetings, communication along the supply chain has improved and farmers are now paid more promptly. Farmers have a much better understanding of key issues such as contract negotiation, and are working together to raise their collective voice on issues that matter to them. The workers who pack the beans – many of whom spend a long time in a cold environment – now have better protective equipment and are given regular breaks and hot drinks.
Farmers and workers in this supply chain still face many challenges. But they now have better skills and increased confidence to take them on.
"Since the project came, communication between workers and management has improved. Fear is down - people, workers know their rights. We now have that sharing between workers and management, even of personal problems,"
Cecilia, Packhouse worker, Kenya