Getting under the skin of the real benefits to producers and their communities

By Judith Batchelar on 25 July 2012

Fairtrade banana farmer

At Sainsbury’s we believe that our values, as well as great quality food, play a big part in making us different. Our customers are trying to make their weekly budgets go further but they still haven’t let go of their aspirations. They still want products they can trust and they expect us to continue doing the right thing like treating our suppliers fairly and helping to make a difference in producer communities.

I'd love to hear from you about what you are doing to help make a difference. Do you buy Fairtrade products, and if so why? If not, why not? Also, what other products would you like to see switched to Fairtrade? Let me know in the comments below.

Today we're celebrating the fifth year anniversary of our 100% Fairtrade bananas. Together with our customers, since we made the switch in 2007, we've been helping to make a difference to the lives of producers, their families and communities in developing countries.

Having visited St Lucia earlier this year with our CEO, Justin King and Harriet Lamb from the Fairtrade Foundation UK, I had the chance to see for myself how meaningful our commitment really is for banana producers. I recently caught up with Harriet to reflect on our recent trip, and the positive impact Fairtrade is continuing to make there, and to ask her some questions about the importance of this five year milestone.

What does this five year milestone mean to Fairtrade?

Harriet: Five years on, this is a great chance to celebrate all that has been achieved. Just imagine - since then, Sainsbury's shoppers have bought enough Fairtrade bananas to stretch to the moon and half way back again! The sale of these bananas has also provided funding for houses and school computers for the producers - because by selling on Fairtrade terms, the producers earn a premium that they can invest back into their communities.

Sainsbury's switching all its bananas to Fairtrade was a great boost for the producers. It provided them with the reassurance that they have a committed partner who wants to buy their bananas. It also set the pace for other retailers in the UK but also overseas. In those five years Sainsbury's has also gone on to convert other categories such as own label tea, roast and ground coffee and sugar to Fairtrade too, and it is continually looking for new opportunities to stock more Fairtrade products, such as peanuts from Malawi. So there's plenty to toast with a glass of Fairtrade Taste the Difference South African wine!

What's more, it's also the five year anniversary of the Fair Development Fund, established by Sainsbury's in 2007. This is run by Comic Relief and provides support to Fairtrade producer groups. For example, thanks to the fund coffee farmers in Congo - who used to risk their lives crossing the border into Rwanda to get higher prices - got organised and started selling on Fairtrade terms. And in Malawi, peanut farmers bought a machine that takes off the shells, making life much easier for the women.

What are the real tangible benefits for the farmers?

Harriet: Sainsbury's banana sales mean that farmers and workers receive around £3.85 million a year in Fairtrade premiums alone - this is money paid on top of the Fairtrade minimum price that they democratically decide how to invest in their communities (in social, environmental and economic developmental projects). In the Windward Islands, Justin and I saw how they had bought computers for schools, funded scholarships, sponsored a school bus and bus shelters, as well as enabling the local farmers' association (WINFA) to invest back in its business. When the main hospital burnt down in St Lucia, the whole hospital had to move into the sports stadium - where they still are! We had the opportunity to visit the site of the much-needed new hospital to which the farmers have contributed.

We also spent a Sunday watching local teenagers show off their skills at basketball and netball on a new sports-pitch paid for by the Fairtrade premium. Such facilities are so important for the young people - and to help nurture future talent. Who knows a new Usain Bolt may be training on that very field now. Meanwhile, around 10 million Fairtrade bananas from the Windward Islands and South America will be eaten at the London Olympic and Paralympic Games and since Fairtrade is all about a level playing field in trade, it's a perfect fit!

Given that consumers are under pressure to manage their household budgets, how important is Fairtrade today?

Harriet: Fairtrade - which is about fair prices and decent working conditions for farmers and workers in the developing world - is more important than ever during these tough economic times. Sadly the number of people living in poverty and not getting enough to eat is back on the rise again, which is why we need big bold commitments to take Fairtrade to scale - just like when Sainsbury's switched all its bananas to Fairtrade five years ago. It was a landmark moment in the history of Fairtrade because here was a major retailer saying that Fairtrade should become the norm, dramatically increasing the benefits to the farmers and workers in the Caribbean, Colombia, and Ghana, and making Fairtrade easily available to all its customers.

Our customers are the ones making the most impact - how is their support making a difference to the lives of producers and their communities?

Harriet: By buying Fairtrade bananas in Sainsbury's, consumers have thrown a lifeline to the banana farmers of the Caribbean Windward Islands. Earlier this year, to mark the five year anniversary, I was lucky enough to visit the Windward Islands with Sainsbury's very own top banana and CEO Justin King. We twisted our way higher and higher up a mountain to meet producer and Sainsbury's supplier, Moses Renee, on his lush farm perched on the steep slopes. A young banana farmer, Moses is seriously committed to farming, Fairtrade, and giving back to his community. Banana farmers are an ageing bunch and Moses is keen to encourage younger people in his community to get into farming. He also came to the UK during Fairtrade Fortnight and visited a Sainsbury's store to see with his own eyes all the rows upon rows of Fairtrade bananas and customers buying them. He was blown away by the level of UK consumer support for Fairtrade and at the time said: "When I go back to St Lucia, I am going to tell other banana farmers about the passion for Fairtrade that people in the UK have demonstrated." It means farmers can plan for the future and invest in their farms - and it also gives them dignity and hope.

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2 comments for “Getting under the skin of the real benefits to producers and their communities”

  • Deborah Cox26 June 2013 at 10:02:34

    Glad you are still sourcing from the Windward Islands as my partner is from Dominica and when I visited 4 years ago a lot of people (family included) were struggling to make a living. Bananas are really their main crop so they rely heavily on it.

  • Mark Azag21 September 2013 at 14:51:30

    Good piece of information to let us know about JS's efforts to help and support deprived people and communities in developing countries get out of their woes and improve on standard of living. In Ghana a lot of farmers are into production of Fairtrade crops like mango, pineapples, cocoa just as banana in your piece. We will be very happy and grateful if JS can explore into these fruits to alleviate the poverty of our ever growing farmer population.

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About the author

  • Judith BatchelarI am responsible for all our own brand products and help make Fairtrade part of the nation's everyday shopping habits.

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