Fair Trader visits Zapco
In 2013 Fair Trader director Mark Lewis visited Zapco, a small co-operative in Malawi that produces a range of organically grown fruit and vegetables. Established in 2004, this co-operative now has over 120 members, growing mango, guava, avocado, tomato and other crops, which are all farmed organically. They have jointly funded a small factory at their Bvumbwe site, where they have a pulper, mixer, steam heater, pasteuriser and bottler as part of their production process. In a country where half of the population lives below the poverty line, forming co-operatives is a key step in assisting smallholder farmers who are struggling on low incomes. Once in a co-operative, farmers can pool their resources, market themselves more effectively and gain access to credit. Indeed, pursuing the co-operative model is even more pressing in light of the fact that the banks in Malawi are not very friendly towards co-ops in terms of providing much-needed credit. Co-operatives though allow people to help each other by providing an element of social security with their special fund, which allows members to cope in times of sickness and allows most members to be able to send their children to school and pay fees.
Clearly, from such humble beginnings and with modest resources, Zapco requires a great deal of assistance in order to help its business grow. That is where Fair Trader comes in; our vision is to help them develop their business by supplying high quality exotic fruit juices to us and other independent co-operatives in the UK. This will require substantial training, investment and hard work, but we are optimistic for the long term, given the support of other co-operatives.
In the meantime, Fair Trader are now partnering them, offering help on quality improvement, exporting, marketing and so on. We have introduced them to John Mulangeni, who is providing local support under the Co-operative Development Program run by The Co-operative College and funded by the Scottish Government. John, who visited our shop in December, is working to help lots of small co-operatives in Malawi, and we hope that together we can develop a reliable supply line for a range of handicraft and other artisan producers that will help lift their communities out of poverty.