Each time a banana is sold at Co-op stores a portion of that money — dubbed the Fairtrade premium — goes back to the farmer. At Volta River Estates (VREL), the Co-op’s banana grower in Ghana, the premium has helped to combat malaria by distributing mosquito nets and creating an immunisation programme.
Last year Co-op shoppers gave £250,000 to banana growers across the world on top of the guaranteed price for the crop— with £15,000 going to the farmers at VREL.
A Fairtrade premium committee, which is democratically elected, decides the projects to channel money to. The committee is made up of 12 members — with each of VREL’s six farms voting for two representatives.
Alex Yeboah-Afari, personnel manager at VREL, says: “Through the Fairtrade premium this year we have provided four mosquito nets to each of our workers and two sets of school uniform for their children.
“We are also building a junior secondary school classroom for 11-12 year olds. We are planting trees in the wider community and financing an immunisation programme for the wider community. We have also supplied a water tank for a small town nearby. We are setting up loans for our workers — most will spend these on supporting their children’s education and buying materials for school. We provide information on HIV/AIDS and counselling.”
Thanks to Fairtrade, all 600 workers on the farms have permanent employment with a salary — and no longer rely on temporary contracts.
Mr Yeboah-Afari adds: “I have been here for the last 18 years. VREL produced the world’s first Fairtrade bananas 11 years ago which were sold in mainland Europe and in the year 2000 these were sold in Co-op stores — the first in the UK. Before VREL there was mostly peasant farming here. Thanks to VREL the banana workers here have a guaranteed income. At the end of every month they know what they will receive. In the past they were dependent on the rains coming and life was more unpredictable.”
One of the direct beneficiaries of the premium is Paulina Ayesua, a banana field worker, who is married to Samuel, a VREL driver. They live in a small village called Atimdoku near the banana farms in a mud hut roofed with iron sheets.
She says: “VREL is very important to me. If I wasn’t here I don’t know how my life would be. Life is still a struggle but it is much better than before I worked here.
“I wanted to be a hairdresser but I didn’t have money to do an apprenticeship. So I came to VREL and I found that it was well organised. I feel proud of the work we do here growing Fairtrade bananas.
“Through the Fairtrade premium this year we have been given mosquito nets and this helps us feel much safer. We have a lot of mosquitoes here and the nets mean we have protection from malaria and sickness.
“The nets are saving our lives and we are so appreciative of that. We thank the people who buy Fairtrade bananas at the Co-op every night and every day. They make us want to grow the best bananas for Fairtrade!”
The effect of Fairtrade spreads much wider than VREL workers, explains Mr Yeboah-Afari: “Buying Fairtrade bananas affects the lives of not only the 600 workers here but that number can be multiplied by five or six because we have an extended family system here which socially binds us together. This shows how widespread the benefits are.
“Once we have Fairtrade we are assured of market access. We are assured of the premiums. There is still a lot of poverty here but there is hope.”
It’s a simple eco-system created by Fairtrade. The more bananas sold; the greater the area the mosquito nets will be cast and the number of lives saved.