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Back to the very roots of the Fair Trade movement – Ghana Blog part 1

Sue Fisher – a faithful volunteer, friend and supporter of Fair Do’s, reports on her recent trip to Ghana with Traidcraft…

At the end of October this year, I was lucky enough to go on one of Traidcraft’s Meet the People (behind the products) tours.

The 2-week trip to Ghana was a very varied and exciting itinerary with visits to Producer groups, many of their projects and places of work. These included several school visits, a clinic, wells, community centres, IT facilities and many instances of women’s groups. We also visited several craft enterprises where we took part in ‘workshops’, local markets, and historical visits to learn about Ghana’s liberation from its colonial past, the traditions of the Ashanti Kingdom and the horrors of the slave trade.

Of particular interest to Fair Do’s were the two visits to producers whose products we stock in the shop. The first of these was Serendipalm, the sustainable palm oil project which provides the oil for the Clean and Fair range of soap products we sell. We turned off the pot-holed main road, up an even bumpier track, to pick up Sanaa, a young woman eco-horticulturalist who is employed by Serendipalm to advise on sustainable growth of the oil palms and other crops. Sanaa took us to a community hall where we met a farmers’ committee. They were keen to tell us about the benefits of a regular income they knew was part of the Fairtrade deal. In the hall were about eighteen computer terminals and while we were there a class from the local high school came in for a lesson. This IT resource is funded by the Fairtrade premium and the IT teacher, Samuel, told us what a difference it made to have this accessibility to modern technology. (Elsewhere we were to see a class crowded around one laptop).

A farmer cuts down the Palm fruit

Sanaa then took us to a palm oil forest. It did not look like the regular plantations I had seen in photographs from Indonesia. There were several other species of tree, much bird song, and the trees were taller than I expected. We met a farmer there called Joseph, who demonstrated how he cuts down the bunches of fruit with a sharp knife at the end of a very long pole. The bunches of fruit were left in heaps at the side of the road to be collected for processing.

Sanaa also took us to a part of the forest where she was planting various other trees, notably cassava and cocoa, as shade for the development of the oil palms at different stages over a twenty-five year growing period. She told us how she was encouraging local farmers to adopt these sustainable methods. The other plants also gave their own useful crops, with cassava taking only six months to mature, and being replanted just from a single twig.

Women at the Palm Oil plant

We were next taken to the headquarters of Serendipalm where several women were seated in groups in a large open shed, with substantial tin bowls full of the bunches of fruit, carried there on the head. The women were busy separating the individual fruits from the bunches, while others took away the remaining fibres for making into fertiliser etc. The women are paid on piece-rate and their individual sacks were labelled with their names. We had lunch with them in their canteen, which was a good chance to have a bit of a conversation.

We saw the first stages of the pressing process to produce the palm oil. It was still very cloudy as it emerged from the machine. It is red in colour and a feature of Ghanean cuisine, notably in the rice dish ‘Red Red’.

Later we were taken to two local projects financed by Serendipalm from the Fairtrade premium. The first was a maternity clinic where local women can receive check-ups and have the services of a midwife when giving birth. The second project was a bore well in a local village which had been built at the request of local people, with particular attention paid to an older woman’s report of a former well she remembered in a particular spot from her childhood. This was investigated and found to be a good source of fresh clean water and we were delighted to see that this woman had been placed in charge of the well, controlling flow and distribution of extra water.

The local woman whose advice was followed to build this well, and who now manages it.

 

I felt that the visit to Serendipalm had taken me back to the roots of the Fair Trade movement, first experienced back in 1981 when I saw women in Bangladeshi villages weaving the jute sikas that were one of Traidcraft’s most popular early products. Now here I was in 2018, seeing the same security of a regular income prized by workers, seeing pride in the community projects made possible by Fair Trade conditions, and feeling a real sense of women’s work being valued and their voices heard.

 

Read part 2 of Sue’s trip to Ghana, when the group visited the cocoa farmers who supply Divine Chocolate, coming soon!