Bringing Fairtrade to Central Asia

Fairtrade cotton farmers in Kyrgyzstan (photo courtesy of Helvatas)

Over 50 participants attended the Fairtrade Central Asia Conference in November

06 January 2012

Ask anyone which countries Fairtrade works in and few are likely to mention Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan. But although their difficulties are widely unknown, farmers in Central Asia are certainly in need of a better deal – and Fairtrade is helping them get it.

The five “Stans” that make up Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) gained independence in 1991, but also lost all their trading links: with other former Soviet Republics, and with neighbouring Central Asian countries. Poor infrastructure means that many farmers have to sell their produce for low prices locally. Agriculture is the chief source of income for the mainly rural population, but a lot of farmers live below the poverty line.

For two groups in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, Fairtrade means they can sell their products in Europe, and make improvements to their community and business. Bio Farmer Agricultural Commodity and Service Cooperative in Kyrgyzstan produces organic Fairtrade cotton. Since becoming Fairtrade certified in 2008 they have grown from 38 to 986 members and have diversified into herbs and spices. In Uzbekistan, small producer organization Turkiston Gulba is expecting 150 000 US dollars in Fairtrade Premium money for their first year with Fairtrade. The farmers plan to invest in access roads, a truck to transport their fruits to market, and water supply for local homes.

Fairtrade is also helping to connect farmers across the region: with each other, and with potential business partners.  At the first ever Fairtrade Central Asia Conference in November, around 20 producers from Central Asia, Pakistan and Iran met with traders, government agencies and Fairtrade representatives in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. For many it was a unique opportunity to meet with buyers. Producers also exchanged ideas, and experiences with new technology; the Uzbek method of using solar panels to dry fruit drew a lot of interest from other farmers still drying by hand.

Across Central Asia, more and more farmers want to join Fairtrade. Dried apricot producers in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan would like to sell on Fairtrade terms and we are looking into extending the Standards to this region. But the challenge of finding buyers for their products remains. Interest in Fairtrade is slowly increasing in Russia: perhaps this could be the start of a new, fairer trading relationship with the former Soviet bloc?

 

Producers in Central Asia currently offer Fairtrade dried fruits, nuts and pulses, as well as organic cotton. For more information contact Sumedha Karuntillake, Regional Consultant Central Asia, Pakistan & Sri Lanka: s.karunatillake-external@fairtrade.net

 
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