Fyson is married with eight children and 33 grandchildren. The 79-year-old started growing tea as a smallholder farmer in 1964. Eleven years ago, he joined Sukambizi Association Trust (SAT), a co-operative with more than 8,000 smallholder farmers in the Mount Mulanje area of southern Malawi.
The benefits of Fairtrade for Fyson range from being able to drink safe water from a community water tap rather than unprotected wells to a fund for maize which he can buy at a 30% lower price than the market offers –both funded by the Fairtrade Premium. His grandchildren are schooled in modern blocks and sit at desks also paid for by the Fairtrade Premium. In the future, Fyson would like to grow more tea and see piped water taps in every household. And for himself? ‘A water tap for my house’.
Life as a tea farmer
Tea provides up to 70% of smallholder farmers’ incomes in the region and they also grow maize, cassava, pineapples, bananas and sugar cane for household consumption and sale to local markets. The majority of farmers live in houses with thatched roofs rather than iron roof sheets while most have no electricity or running water. More than 90% of their children attend primary school but only 25% carry on to secondary education. Farmers struggle to buy enough food during the dry, off-peak season when little tea is harvested and sold. Changing weather patterns and an increase in pests and disease are reducing yields by 15% on average and affecting farmers’ incomes.
HOW FAIRTRADE AND SAT HAVE MADE A DIFFERENCE
- The Naphimba maternity wing was funded partly from the Fairtrade Premium, with an estimated 400 deliveries a year. The wing is saving expectant mothers a 40km trip and provides an alternative to traditional home births and with them the danger of life-threatening complications.
- An ambulance has been bought to serve a community of 30,000 and accommodation built for families and relatives at a medical centre –previously they cooked under trees and slept in corridors.
- Support for farmers has included the building of bridges over rivers and streams to connect 4,800 people in 45 inaccessible villages and improve the efficiency of farmers transporting their tea leaves.
- Tea producers in the Fairtrade system sell on average under 9% of their product on Fairtrade terms. Only around 7% of tea sold in the UK is Fairtrade Tea production relies on established rainfall patterns. In recent years weather patterns have become increasingly unpredictable, linked to deforestation and climate change, and affecting producers’ livelihoods.
- £3.92 in Fairtrade Premium received by producer organisations for 2011-2012