Spotlight On: Sher Ghazi of Mountain Fruits
In late July, floodwaters washed over almost the entire country of Pakistan. Throughout Pakistan, numerous lives were lost and thousands were displaced from their homes. Fairtrade certified producers in Gilgit in the Northern reaches of the country were among the first to feel the brutal effects of the flooding.
Gilgit is home to Mountain Fruits, a Fairtrade certified producer of dried apricots, almonds and other fruits and nuts. Though flooding wiped out the majority of the region’s apricot harvest, Tropical Wholefoods, a UK-based importer of Fairtrade goods, which helped make up for the loss of the apricot harvest.
Sher Ghazi, CEO of Mountain Fruits, stopped by the FLO offices in Bonn, Germany, for an interview while travelling through Europe to attend conferences and visit traders.
In the region you’re working with, what percentage of people were affected by the floods?
“In our communities, 100% of the population has been affected, while not directly hitting the almonds, irrigation canals were destroyed, families were out of power and the children couldn’t attend school because the bridges were out. Now since the highway has been rebuilt, bridges are being reconstructed and we are getting supplies. But the people have used up all their cash, they have no income and fuel and other things are scarce.”
How long did the flooding last?
“I was in Thailand where FLO was holding the summer consultation and when I returned, I got stuck in Islamabad. For almost 25 days the water and the rain were continuously disturbing the area. Our road was first opened after 47 days.
How is the recovery going?
“Well, the main obstacles have been removed. The power supply in the main town is now okay. They are working on linking the villages with bridges so at least the kids can go to school. The people from the main town (Gilgit) are going to construct it since people from the valleys do not know how to build this. And you cannot wait for the government. That is too slow.”
How is the Fairtrade Premium being used in the area?
“Some people have projects, which were continued like education and a vocational school. There is a water supply project in one area and another effort to build a community hall.
“And this year, the Premium from 2009 was just received a month before I came here, soon after all the effects of the flood, and the money is being spent on rebuilding of the irrigation channels because this was the priority for most villagers.
“So for now it has just been used for rebuilding the infrastructure in communities.”
Mountain Fruits provides work opportunities for many young women in the region. In many cases, it is the only opportunity for women to work outside the home and Sher Ghazi and his wife Roshan Ghazi are proud to provide local women with the opportunity to contribute to family income. Roshan also works at Mountain Fruits and recruits their seasonal work force.
What is the role of women at Mountain Fruits? (answered by Roshan)
Before Fairtrade, farmers used to dry the apricots for local consumption. The women were responsible for cooking, taking care of animals, taking care of the children, actually all of the activities inside the house. In addition they harvested and did the apricot drying.
The women had to sell the apricots to local traders at any price since they had no other option, there was no other market. But now they are exporting and benefiting from an attractive price. And the money they are getting, they are investing it, especially in sending their daughters to school.
I understand that Mountain Fruits gives preference to people from disadvantaged backgrounds to help them and their families.
One of the attractions of working with Mountain Fruits is that we hire only women and they all work together. It’s a good environment and they are very much satisfied working there. Mountain Fruits actually pays a better wage compared to local rates, although there are few alternatives in the area. University students also come to work at Mountain Fruits to make money so they can pay for their next semester.