Volo

Mpanga Growers Fair Trade Tea Factory, Uganda

RE-POST

July 15, 2010

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The western Ugandan landscape is beautiful with its rolling hillsides and lush green vegetation. It is also carpeted by tea plantations. Miles and miles of rich bright tea leaves coat the hillsides much like the vineyards do in our Okanagan countryside. Everywhere there is tea.

I managed to hire a driver to take me across town to visit with the Mpanga Tea Factory. This was quite a facility. Relatively large, seemingly well organized and financially supported. There were office buildings for management, as well as buildings labeled as being “paid for by Fair Trade Premiums”. Buildings like the medical clinic and dispensary, the “accounting office” which offered financial support for the employees, the dining hall, and even latrines were identified. Toilets are often just holes in the ground, so these were well equipped with regular flush toilets, a sink to wash your hands in, and all enclosed into a private little building.

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I met with the general manager, Rogers, who again was extremely accommodating. On very short notice he welcomed me for a discussion and arranged for me to have a tour of the facility. Again, knowing little about tea, this was a great learning experience to see the leaves follow through the production process resulting in a bag of tea! I was even allowed to sample the various types of tea they harvest in their tasting room.

Rogers had positive things to say about fair trade with the exception of not being able to sell enough at fair trade prices. Apparently only 2% of their sales achieved fair trade prices. As small as that sounds, it generated almost $40K in premiums.

More benefits outlined by Rogers were:

Working with fair trade empowers shareholder farmers in making critical decisions for the organizations. For example:
a) In deciding which projects to undertake that are funded by the premium. This is very important for their organization. If the project creates a big impact on the lives of many then they take it as critical.
b) All policies that are implemented in the organization have to be approved by the shareholders who double as farmers and this is a requirement by the fair trade model.
c) Important organization projects have to be approved by shareholder farmers. i.e. all annual budgets.
The management team has had opportunities of getting exposure through the various networks that subscribe to fair trade. This has positively impacted on the capacity of the management team. For example:
a) Under fair trade Mpanga has been able to attend various courses related to food safety management and this resulted into being HACCP certified. Opportunities were created for senior management to visit other tea companies in Kenya that were implementing this standard under the auspices of fair trade.
b) A number of courses organized by the African fair trade network (AFN) and Co-operation for fair trade in Africa (COFTA) have been attended by members of senior management. They work closely with Factory Companies who subscribe to fair trade. Study tours have been organized i.e. Rungwe farmers from Tanzania have been able to visit Mpanga and they are planning an exchange visit. They came to know each other because they are both fair trade certified.

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