2017 marks the ten-year anniversary of Liberation Foods, the UK-based Fairtrade, farmer-owned nut company that has gone from strength to strength in its first decade and now supplies a host of huge chains including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose. Among the company’s many global beneficiaries are a number of peanut, cashew, macadamia and other nut producers in various areas of sub-Saharan Africa, with particular focus on operations in Malawi, Mozambique and Ghana.
Liberation Foods, which was founded by the Fairtrade charity Twin (also responsible for leading brands like Cafédirect and Divine Chocolate), aims to ensure that small-holder nut producers ‘earn a decent, secure income and can plan for the future of their families and communities’. The core of the Liberation model involves buying nuts from the co-operatives of multiple small-scale growers and farmers, who collectively own a 44% stake in the company.
As managing director Kate Gaskell told The Co-Operative News earlier this month, each kilo of nuts sold ‘is very valuable to small-scale producers and gatherers. The market continues to increase and we are very optimistic about its future. It is very much in the current zeitgeist of replacing less healthy snacks like chocolate and crisps… people are realising nuts are a very sustainable kind of protein which can be very valuable in their diet.’
The ongoing success of the Liberation Foods project is particularly notable against the overall picture for organic farming in Africa. Although organic farming has been identified by numerous key global organisations as a rich source of potential income for the continent, a recently published technical study by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) also reported that many farmers felt funding had become increasingly hard to come by over the past five years.
This is a frustrating time for many producers, especially given that the potential of organic exports to make a huge impact in Africa is clear to see: as noted by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, a series of programmes initiated in East Africa saw the region’s organic exports grow from $4.6 million in 2002/03 to $35 million in 2009/10. UNCTAD reports that these programmes have led gradually to ‘a common regional organic standard and significantly increased crop yields in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and the United Republic of Tanzania’.
Indeed, the ongoing worldwide shift in consumer habits that’s driving demand for organic produce in Africa goes far beyond simple snacking. In addition to the longstanding heavy global investment in African exports like cocoa and coffee, world markets are seeing a huge upswing in demand for all manner of organically produced African ingredients, including everything from ethically sourced beauty products to organically produced dietary supplements. Many of these rely on sub-Saharan farming staples like tropical fruits, olives and oils, cotton, shea butter, and even newer industries like the growing market for whey proteins and other farming by-products.
Despite this, the recent UNCTAD study found that ‘the most critical areas in terms of the need for external funding highlighted by stakeholders in organic agriculture were certification, the organization of smallholder farmers into production groups, marketing, and the purchase of equipment’.
All the more impressive, then, that Fairtrade-funded Liberation Foods initiatives in organic farming co-ops have helped African farmer organisations invest in a number of successful community projects in recent years, including health care and education facilities, the purchasing of new tools and equipment, and even the installation of miles of solar-powered fencing to safely protect cashew tree plantations from overgrazing by endangered elephants. Liberation is also at the forefront of several global training programmes, include fair rewards and recognition for women, and promoting best practice in quality standards, land use, planting and water conservation.