Fairtrade nuts reach UK despite Amazon floods

Posted: 27 March 2006

With Fairtrade growing in Britain by 40 per cent a year, the problems of getting forest products to market are often overlooked. In Bolivia, for example, nut gatherers have recently made heroic efforts to get Fairtrade brazil nuts to UK consumers despite devastating flooding.

The brazil nuts are from the Coinacapa nut gatherers co-operative in the Amazon Rainforest and were the first Fairtrade nuts on sale in UK supermarkets when Tesco stores started selling them at the beginning of this month.

Brazil nut gatherers, Coinacapa, Brazil.
Brazil nut gatherers. Coinacapa, Brazil.
Brazil nut gatherers, Coinacapa, Brazil. ©Twin Trading
But after the first shipment, unusually heavy seasonal rains brought most of the country to chaos. Rivers burst their banks, roads collapsed, mudslides causes fatalities and villages were left like islands surrounded by a sea of flood water - including those of the Coinacapa gatherers.

The unrelenting rain left seven out of nine of Bolivia's regions in an emergency situation. International aid has been sent and camps have been set up for the tens of thousands who have lost their homes in what was already the poorest country in South America. Having established a fair price for their nuts under the Fairtrade system, thanks to work with alternative trading organisations Twin Trading and Equal Exchange in the UK, the gatherers were determined that their nuts would reach Europe against all the odds.

Mercy dash

"We think the actions of the Coinacapa members speaks volumes about their commitment to the Fairtrade market," says Duncan White, director of Twin Trading which is providing technical assistance and marketing support. "We know how vital the Fairtrade market is to these producers. As one gatherer said, 'Since we started the co-operative it's as if we gained our freedom. It feels like we're not slaves any more. We have more income, more work and more dignity.'"

Representatives of Coinacapa met with a Bolivian Government minister to argue for use of one of the relief aeroplanes to airlift the nuts to the capital La Paz from where they could be taken by road and ship to the UK. A brazil nut mercy dash was agreed but a lack of fuel meant the plan couldn't go ahead.

The gatherers then spent days attempting to move their nuts along newly formed rivers and still flooded roads. They were thwarted and tried different paths in order to make export possible. Finally this week, after five days without rain, they found a road dry enough to allow the nuts to be transported to La Paz.

"The gatherers are relieved," says Juan Andres-Santelices, the Supply Chain Development Manager of Equal Exchange who has managed to maintain sporadic contact with Coinacapa. "They have done all they can to keep the supply chain in place and ensure their nuts can be exported."

Gathering brazil nuts is an exhausting task and provides a vital source of income to the hundreds of farming families in Bolivia who are supplying the supermarket and who for the first time are guaranteed a fair return for their hard work. The brazil nut industry is a significant part of attempts to save the Amazon Rainforest as it provides local communities with a way to earn their living which does not involve cutting down the precious timber.

The Fairtrade nuts can be bought under the Tesco own brand in 150g bags. Duncan White adds: "These are great quality nuts and we hope UK nut lovers will also buy them knowing of the great efforts taken by the nut gatherers to get them here from the worst possible conditions."

The search is now on to find other outlets and to increase the range of products from the Amazon. Fair trade nuts from other countries in South America are already available at independent stores in the UK, and The Co-op is soon to start selling high quality salted peanutssupplied by Twin Trading.

Source: Twin Trading, 27 March,2006

Note: Twin Trading was established in 1985 and remains one of the world's leading alternative trading companies, having been a founding partner of Cafédirect and having established the Day Chocolate Company and European fruit importer AgroFair in the UK. It uses trade to redress unequal relations between the north and south. It does this by strengthening organisations which represent farmers in developing countries, helping them to access markets for their products. All of Twin Trading's products carry the FAIRTRADE Mark, the only independent consumer guarantee of a fair deal for farmers in developing countries.

Twin Trading says that it pays consistently over the market price and works with the gatherers to make sure they will have long term sustainable businesses and secure incomes for the future.

Equal Exchange Trading is a Fair Trade company distributing Organic and Fair Trade products to the independent natural food sector. It is a founding partner of Cafédirect and distributes its own branded Fair Trade products as well as other selected brands such as Cafédirect and Divine Chocolate.

Related links:

Fairtrade takes off in UK