Visiting “Elements” and “Fair Trade Alliance Kerala”30 May 2017
Following a trip to cocoa producers, I visited the “Fair Trade Alliance Kerala” (FTAK) in Kerala two weeks ago at – the producers who had delighted me with the wonderful products in the first Crowd-Container-Package. That one can visit the producers of their own food far in the distance is not common. Too often, only glossed pictures are shown for the marketing in Europe to be in line with the do-good wishes of the consumers. With my own background as a producer (herbs and citrus fruits in Morocco) and as a sourcing manager (fresh pineapples from West Africa and Central America), I am strongly aware of fair trade between North and South. Even more, I appreciate the initiative of Crowd Container and the FTAK, which through transparency and a direct link between the producer and the consumer allow for truly fair trade and exchange.
My first contact with the producers in Kerala was at the organic shop of Elements, the local export partner of FTAK. The store could be located somewhere in a European metropolis and would not attract attention to anybody as a foreign body. On the contrary, while in Switzerland unpacked stores sprout from every corner, the Elements Organic Store Calicut has been the standard for almost 30 years. We went on to the coconut oil factory, a few hours north of Calicut. I was not even sure if the factory was operating at all. There is nothing hectic, nobody is shouting – but on closer inspection it is noticeable that people are working hard, but with a soothing calm and concentration. At the latest, when I had lunch in the company-owned cafeteria, I wanted to apply for a job. By far the best meal I had eaten on my whole trip. Also, this factory is not simply a factory, but there are cycles, analyzed, used and lived, down to the last detail: Food waste and coconut water become biogas, which is used for cooking in the canteen for the workers. The waste water from the biogas plant is cleaned by plants and then reused, to name only two examples.
The following day I visited some producers on site. I am used to see pineapple mono-cultures by hectares, the form of production in mixed cultures and the associated biodiversity was already a pure visual benefit. While most species were already known to me, there was still a lot to discover, for example the inconspicuous cardamom. Also, it was very exciting to learn and see how the cooperative is functioning and organized. With 5000 members, I imagined it to be rather difficult. But from my little insights I had a good impression. The whole cooperative is organized in small, manageable units, each with about 30 farmers to ensure that every farmer has a voice.
Finally, I would like to thank the FTAK and Elements for the delicate products and the exciting insights into Kerala.