Member blog and crowd funding appeal: Support Mzuzu Coffee

18 August 2022
Mzuzu Blog SMP blog post 1 01

The following blog is written by SMP member Eve Broadis of ‘Fair Trade Scotland’, promoting their new CROWDFUNDING APPEAL to support the recertification of fair trade Mzuzu Coffee.

Meet Mzuzu: Malawian coffee producers calling time on unfair trading systems!

Former US president Barack Obama once said: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.”

For the Mzuzu Coffee Planters Co-operative Union, that time is now!

The change they seek?

A fair share of coffee revenues that would enable farmers to live with the decency they deserve, in a Fairtrade system that is truly fair to their certified producers.

The ups and downs of a Fairtrade Certified coffee farmer

Resilient, pioneering, innovators, and committed to sustainable coffee production: just some of the qualities that define Malawi’s Mzuzu Cooperative.

It's farmer members, now in excess of 3000, have been producing coffee with dignity and care since the 1930s; a heritage of which they are rightly proud.

Yet their longevity and pioneering approach to producing coffee is facing uncertainty due, in part, to a certification system that does not allow for real partnership working.

Achieving Fairtrade certification in 2009 was an important milestone, opening many opportunities to trade their green bean, with overseas customers; however, the union’s fortunes took a downturn with the crisis that struck the global industry in 2017.

The market was flooded with a huge surplus of Brazilian beans and small producers like Mzuzu were hit with a double whammy of plummeting prices and the inability to sell their next year’s harvest.

This, coupled with not yet having solidified its place in the market as an exporter of roast and ground coffee, meant that financial commitments made to staff went unfulfilled in 2018 - 2020.

Then, in a perfect storm, a subsequent FLO-Cert audit found Mzuzu no longer met the criteria for Fairtrade certification.

Despite complying with all the conditions for continued certification and repeated requests to Fairtrade International for the time to see their recovery plan through to the end abrupt decertification followed. This immediately led to the loss of 18 overseas customers whose revenues since 2019 would have helped meet outstanding wage payments to the cooperative staff.

10 years of strict Fairtrade compliance, whilst successfully promoting the benefits of Fairtrade certification, Mzuzu was let down.

No recrimination, just a pioneering future

More passionate than ever to become a leader in a greener, sustainable, equitable coffee industry; Mzuzu has partnered with Fair Trade Scotland in a bid to gain back its Fairtrade certification.

Click here to support.

With farmers often receiving just 0.4% of the revenues from coffee sales, life is hard and unpredictable at best – nothing short of a hand-to-mouth existence for many, s. So renewed access to overseas markets would take Mzuzu a step closer toward dignified living standards, fair wages and long-term sustainability its members deserve.

Re-certification would also allow Mzuzu to properly establish itself as an exporter of their Packaged Roast and Ground coffee: keeping the valuable roasting income within the cooperative and thereby ensuring a fairer share of the 80% of revenues and cutting greenhouse gases by 20% when the lighter finished product is shipped.

One good conversation can shift the direction of change forever.

Mzuzu and Fair Trade Scotland started this campaign to re-ignite the dialogue with Fairtrade International about enhancing their certification system, which they feel is in urgent need of updating, by putting the needs of the Producer first and in Mzuzu’s case raising funds to repay wages and guarantee Fairtrade recertification.

Despite its best intentions to stamp out inequalities and discrimination against marginalised producers, too many still live in the abject poverty we have been talking about.

Producers need a Fairtrade Certification System that better reflects the challenges they face and gives them a fairer share of the available revenues from the trading relationship. A certification system that truly embodies the Principles and Values of the other actors in the global Fair Trade movement.

Will you don the mantel of change too?

Fairtrade International maintains that the only stumbling block to the completion of Mzuzu’s recertification is the outstanding wage arrears, to be paid to the Cooperative staff, not the farmers, which were accrued during and after the coffee crisis in 2017. The 157 staff members agreed to waive their wages until the market picked up by voluntarily signing an agreement to this effect.

So the next phase of the campaign will see the launch of crowdfunding to raise the funds needed to pay staff arrears and restore their faith in a Certification System they truly believed in.

Please support it in whatever way you can and help this proud union realise its vision to create an authentically fair system that enables its members to thrive through sustainable trade, not aid.

Eve Broadis, Fair Trade Scotland.