South Africa was the first developing country to sell locally grown fair trade products in its own local market and Kenya recently became Africa’s second, according to Arianna Baldo with Fairtrade South Africa.
The nonprofit Fairtrade organization helps farmers in developing countries build sustainable businesses. The Fairtrade label on a product means it was produced by farmers and workers who were justly compensated, the organization says. It also means their products are higher priced.
At South Africa’s 64 fair trade-certified farms, workers are guaranteed at least minimum wage and 50-60 percent of fair trade farms pay more, according to a report in Fresh Fruit Portal. There are annual compliance checks.
In contrast to Europe where almost everyone is a potential buyer of higher-priced fair trade goods, Baldo estimates one in five South Africans is a potential consumer of the premium products.
“Historically the fair trade market is mostly based on producers in the south and consumers in the north,” Baldo said in an interview in Fresh Fruit Portal. “Poorer countries have fair trade-certified farms and the raw products are exported to Europe, America, Australia, New Zealand. The products are packaged and processed there and then sold to richer consumers.”
In Africa, Kenya has recently joined South Africa as a “south-to-south” market. Other potential markets in Africa include Namibia, Nigeria and Angola.
South Africa is positioned to benefit from both production and consumption of fair trade goods, Baldo said. Wealthier South Africans have the ability to support local, quality goods.
“(South Africa) is still a developing country,” she said in the report. “The majority of the population lives in rural areas and doesn’t have access to certain basic services. In South Africa, our target market is the emerging middle class, your urban consumer, people that go and shop in supermarkets.”
While almost everyone in Europe is a potential buyer of higher-priced fair trade goods, Baldo estimates one in five South Africans is a potential consumer of the premium products.
In South Africa, farm workers are not the typical fair trade consumers. They live in mostly rural areas and they shop at local village shops or at the market. For them, the typical fair trade products like fresh fruit or coffee or chocolate are products for the rich, Baldo said. “If you are poor, chocolate or filtered coffee is that last thing you think to buy.”
Launching the fair trade label in South Africa was difficult, Baldo said, because the population lacked understanding of what it meant.
“Ethical food labeling is very new in South Africa, as I believe it is in the other emerging markets. So it really creates a novelty for consumers that want to buy something different,” Baldo says.
“Issues like organic agriculture and buying sustainable products is becoming more and more interesting for consumers. That’s why we started the fair trade label for South Africa,” Baldo said in the interview in Fresh Fruit Portal.
Products with the Fairtrade International label are sold in 120 countries. The company works with an estimated 1.2 million farmers in 66 countries.