By Nelson Mandela Muhoozi
For most Ugandan tea producers and exporters, fair trade is ‘unfair’ as a negligible number of farmers are able to benefit from higher, fixed prices for their tea.
Sales of Fairtrade-certified products are not benefiting poor farmworkers because profits fail to trickle down to much of the workforce, laments Alex Amanya, a Project Manager in charge of Tea, East and Central Africa at Solidaridad.
Amanya blames this on the failure of the great majority of farmers to qualify for Fairtrade certification, rendering the sub-sector to continue earning sorry prices compared to Uganda’s East African counterparts.
According to Amanya, Fairtrade ought to mean better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the industry.
How to benefit from fairtrade
In order to benefit from fair trade, Amanya, says tea farmers need to embrace climate-smart practices in their tea landscapes including agroforestry practices, better soil management, less use of pesticides and inorganic fertilizers.
“They should also be cognizant of how they treat the labour that works on their farms ensuring they also pay fair wages and stop child labour,” he said.
“Most importantly, farmers need to be educated on the fair-trade systems to prevent them from being cheated by factories who are fair-trade certified,” he added.
How to get the Fair-Trade label
According to Mugabe Gregory, the Chairman Uganda Tea Association, Teas with Fair Trade label stand a chance to earn more in terms of prices and get customers faster than those with no Fair-Trade label.
To get the label, Mugabe says one has to apply to Fairtrade International, a German-based organisation, and once the application is received, the organisation sends auditors to check various conformity aspects including (ESG) Environmental, Social, and Governance.
According to Mugabe, you have to pass qualification scores on how you are dealing with the workers, if you pay them well, if you are gender sensitive and involving women if you are applying the best agronomic practices, and if you are protecting workers, among others.
If an association’s farmers are non-conformant, Mugabe said auditors will give a grace period which could go up to two months for the management to put right missing aspects before granting them fair-trade label rights.
However, Mugabe decries that the costs of attaining a fair trade label are high.
He stated, “You have to part with close to sh15m annually for the label. The organisation has focal persons in the regions who audit various crops including tea, coffee and sugarcane plantations.”
Depending on the number of farmers you have in an association, Mugabe said you pay differently, and that it’s expensive compared to the value of tea Uganda sells.
According to Mugabe, producers still question what value they get from fair trade. But once you are on the register, he says you always have buyers looking for you at the auction.