Igara tea factory stands high above the town of Butare, nestled amongst the rolling tea plantations that form the landscape as the eye looks to the horizon. There are over 5500 smallholder farmers in the surroundings supplying green leaf to Igara. We started with a tour of the factory, learning of all the stages of tealeaf processing – from the green leaf entering to the sacks of tea departing. It was great to meet the individuals whom are so passionate about producing the products that are at the heart of my life – much is done over a cuppa, or ‘paned’ in Wales – big decisions are settled and broken hearts comforted!
As a farmers daughter, I’ve always been aware of the origin of that we eat, and the importance of it – environmentally, economically and socially. I’m also very aware of the disconnect that we have between consumer and producer, exemplified by the confusion between certification labels; many thinking that the Rainforest Alliance frog stands for the same as the Fairtrade stamp. The general manager tells me; “Fairtrade is the only ethical mode of trade we know”, and I think how detrimental the aforementioned misconception could be for millions of lives across the world!
As we go to take a photo upon departure, the gentleman that gave us such an interesting tour of the factory first comes to see the ‘Support Fairtrade’ t-shirt that I have on under my white safety coat – and the smile that spreads on his face was priceless, and causes me to repeat this action every time I recollect this moment. I’ll never forget the way that smiles spread across the faces of those I asked how Fairtrade had changed their lives. I’m not sentimental, but this was special. It was evident to me that buying products that bore that mark had the power to change the trajectory of so many lives!
Igara produce 16kg of Fairtrade certified tea daily, but not enough Fairtrade certified tea is bought on the global market for them to receive a Fairtrade price and premium for all their produce. The general manager highlighted: “Fairtrade offers stability, so that we can plan ahead and invest in our communities. Increasing the percentage of our tea that’s sold at a Fairtrade price would allow us to improve the quality of life of our community tremendously”. Change is in our pockets, and how we spend it cast votes for the future we want. After all, we are what we eat (and drink)!