Women in Africa Find New Markets

Photos courtesy of Phytotrade

29 September 2010

Everyday women in remote communities of Southern Africa fan out from their villages to gather fruit from the iconic baobab and marula trees that dot the landscape. More than 2.5 million women depend on these fruits for use at home or to sell in local markets to support their families. The fruits are also growing in popularity on the international market.

Spurred by interest from groups in Malawi and Swaziland, the African Fairtrade Network (AFN) worked with FLO to create standards for baobab and marula. The new standards mark the first time in the Fairtrade system that a new product was developed under the leadership of a producer network.

“With the drive to make Fairtrade broader, we realized that we didn’t focus on small products in Africa and we were missing out on a big opportunity to develop new markets,” said Benjamin Gatland, Standards Development Coordinator at the AFN, who headed the project. “These fruits are unique to Africa and it’s good to promote and celebrate local indigenous products.”

While local communities have many uses for the nutritious fruits, baobab and marula are also gaining popularity in international markets for use in cosmetics and specialty foods. Their pulp and powder can now be found in jams, juices, liquor, and health foods. This growing market gives the women – most of whom earn less than $100USD a year – a unique opportunity to earn greater income for themselves, their families and their communities.

The standards were created under FLO’s new easy entrance program, which reduces the lengthy input process for any product that can fit into an existing product category. During the standards process, the AFN coordinated field research with Phytotrade Africa, a non-profit trade association promoting natural products from Africa that was instrumental in the development of the standards.

Since the standards were established in July, Gatland noted that the producer organizations have received six letters of intent to purchase the products.

“No one ever really looked at these products, but it’s working out well,” Gatland said. “Fairtrade is now not just building new avenues for existing products, but helping create markets for new ones too.”

The AFN is also thankful for the generous support of Comic Relief, a UK-based charity that has supported AFN’s market development efforts.

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