All the sugar in Divine chocolate is Fairtrade certified and sourced from the Kasinthula Cane Growers Association in Malawi. With the threat of further penalties on non European sugar in European products, Fairtrade cane sugar farmers around the world are at risk of losing customers. They are also at the mercy of the elements – and climate change is having a serious impact in Malawi, where they are just recovering from widespread floods across the country which swept away homes and crops.
Manager Charles Chavi and farmer Allan Saidi from Kasinthula have just been in UK with Fairtrade Foundation for Fairtrade Fortnight, and it was really good to have an opportunity to catch up with them, hear their news and ensure they went home with a good Divine Chocolate selection.
 
I visited Kasinthula back in 2014, so I was concerned to know how badly the flooding had affected them, and what was now happening.
 
 “A lot of farmers lost their crops and livestock. Some houses also fell down,” said Charles. “There isn’t much Kasinthula has done except that farmers and employees were provided with maize in January.” He went on to suggest,  “To help farmers prepare in the future, I think farmers should be encouraged to grow more food crops in summer. They should be supported to grow more trees. More should be done on climate change adaptation.”
 
Allan added, “The flooding affected me personally because all other crops I grew were flooded like maize and cotton. Fellow members’ houses were flooded as well as their crops. Kasinthula provides capacity building to address climate change but it does not have enough funds.”
 
I was interested to know about how the new business model I’d heard about back in 2014 was progressing, which aimed to ensure each producer knew how productive they were each season.
 
“The model was developed and it’s currently being used,” confirmed Charles. “We started by paying farmers in blocks, for example in groups of 5-10. We used to play them a flat rate and eventually farmers will be paid each according to their individual production.”
 
He explained that the new business model has increased yield and the average is now 98 tonnes of sugar a hectare - a significant increase on the year before.  This was partly due to the new model as it has meant farmers worked harder as they knew that they would get the benefits, and partly due to replanting.  (Sugar is productive for 7 years after which you need to plant a new seedling).
 
Allan agreed that from his point of view the new model was having an impact, “It is working because farmers are now able to know the actual production of his/her sugar farm items of expenditures and incomes.”
 
Having welcomed farmers over in UK from Africa for the first time for more than a decade, it is always interesting and enlightening to know what most surprises them about what they see and find here.
 
Charles was impressed by the commitment and passion people have towards Fairtrade. “I see such hard work in trying to make Fairtrade a success.”
 
Allan was surprised to find all the the school children taking part in Fairtrade activities, “this is really amazing!” he said.
 
When probed a little more to tell of his experiences on this trip he admitted he wasn’t that keen on flying.  “I didn’t like the effect that the flight and the vibrations had on my stomach. I was scared and tearful on the approach to Heathrow but then when he looked around me and saw all the rich white people with me on the plane and I was encouraged!”
 
The favourite place Allan visited was Parliament. “I asked the people who took me there whether the big watch still worked!”
 
And he was a bit perplexed by the fish he ate here. “The fish was strange. Where were the bones and the head and tail?  When I asked what size the fish were, someone said that they were the size of a horse!” 
 
Read here about Sophi’s trip to Kasinthula, and more information about the Kasinthula Cane Growers Association here.
 
If you would like to contribute to the fund to help sugar growers affected by the recent flooding please see the details here.