In September this year, Webster Kita and Howard Msukwa, Chair and Vice Chair of one of the largest farmers' assoications in Africa - KASFA- visited the UK to speak to supporters and customers about the fairly traded Kilombero Rice they produce in Malawi.
The visit was organised by Forum member, JTS, an ethical fine food distributor based in Paisley which imports and distributes Kilombero rice in the UK. The visit marked 10 years of KASFA and JTS's business partnership.
Webster and Kita visited a number of places around the UK and in this blog, John Riches from JTS, tells us about their visit to Dumfries to attend the Forum's Campaigner Conference. You can read John's preceding blog on the JTS website.
Saturday 8 September
"Friday’s blog was written thinking that by Friday afternoon I’d be sitting happily at home in Balmore with Webster and Howard, talking through the programme.
That didn’t take into the airline who bumped Webster and Howard off their morning flight. So, after a lot of uncertainty and hours of watching people coming through the doors at Domestic Arrivals in Edinburgh, it was a great joy when they both appeared at 10.30pm - 15 hours after getting into Heathrow. What a miserable first day for them!
Off to the Scottish Fair Trade Forum’s AGM in Dumfries
Saturday was a different story. We were off to the Scottish Fair Trade Forum’s AGM in Dumfries. Dumfries is one of the most active centres of Fair Trade in Scotland and has been fertile ground for our partnership with Malawi. Lots of support for rice sales and indeed all our JTS products and very close links to Paul Tofield, a fund of knowledge on agriculture and its implements who has been helping Howard introduce a great element of mechanisation into the farms in Malawi.
Judith Milne was there to greet us and take us to the newly opened Dumfries Larder, where Kilombero rice was on sale and the local press waiting. It’s a beautiful new deli, selling lots of nice local cheeses and produce alongside artisan foods from around the world. Just where we want to be. This is a growing sector of the high street and one which promises much for the regeneration of town centre shopping in places like Dumfries. And it could be very good for JTS and KASFA. Louise, the managing director is very welcoming, the press are soon snapping away, and I manage to get some tips for the Fair Trade shop in Milngavie (Gavin’s Mill), which I’m involved with. And the sun begins to come out.
Off to the Forum’s AGM. We are about to start a project in partnership with them, to assist KASFA with their World Fair Trade Organization Membership, which the Forum will help us with. Engaging with certification and verification systems in general is not an easy thing for smallholders. It’s a lot of work, particularly when you have large numbers of small units to check. And it’s pretty costly. WFTO (World Fair Trade Organization) verifies the organisation rather than the product and we’ll be going for this. Could make a big difference and it’s good to be working more closely with the Forum and to meet their new staff member Ross, who’s got a particular interest in business development. Just up our street! And now we are on, talking to the 50 or so members who’ve enjoyed a great lunch, about partnership and where it can take us. As we are reminded by Colleen from the Forum and Colin Smyth, a local MSP, international partnership is one of the Sustainable Development Goals recognised by the UN as crucial to the development of a world which is peaceful and caring of the planet. And we, KASFA and JTS, are here to show what that can be like, after 10 years of working together. It’s also the first time that Webster has spoken in public, in English, outside Africa. Quite a moment for him!
Not at all daunted, he starts by getting everyone to do some chanting in praise of Kilombero rice: Kilombero ohoiye! And then, things begin to flow: we hear about the improvements on the farms: new seed, new implements, ox-carts for transportation: anything from rice, cattle feed, bricks and sick people to hospital in the middle of the night. A lot of this has been kick-started by grants from the Scottish Government: another wonderful example of partnership: Scotland with Malawi. What’s really exciting is that KASFA can manage such investments in a sustainable way. They have just repeated the original £70k seed multiplication process which ensure seed fertility without any further injection of cash – and actually produced more seed than on the first round. Small wonder that their numbers are growing: from 2,500 in 2008 to 7,000 now. Time to consolidate the organisation, which is what makes all these exciting improvements possible!
Food for thought
After the meeting we meet up with Paul Tofield who takes us to see some of the industrial-sized agricultural machinery on offer in Dumfries which, he says, would only damage their soil and then shows us a beautiful small Japanese tractor which would work perfectly in mud. All food for thought. Paul is just full of ideas! He’s also great with all sorts of machines and gets to the bottom of a wee problem with my van which I’ve been having difficulty identifying. So good to have friends! A beautiful quiet drive back thought the borders in the afternoon sun. Webster is impressed by how green it all is and how good the roads are. Home by 7."
Written by John Riches, JTS.
For stockists of Kilombero Rice and more information, visit the JTS website.