This week we talk to Ms Aniamma Roy, the Vice Chairperson of FTAK (Fair Trade Alliance, Kerala). All of the producers interviewed in the series will be making the very special trip to London in October, to coincide with National Nut Day. Ms Aniamma tells us she is both nervous and excited about the trip.
We asked Aniamma..
LN: How long have you been growing cashew nuts?
AR: 15 years
LN: How long have you been a member of FTAK?
AR: Since 2008
LN: Tell us a little bit about a day in your life
AR: I live with my husband and two children, both of whom are studying. My normal day starts at 5 am. The first job is to milk the cows and tend to the cattle after which we prepared breakfast and also lunch in time for children to leave for school. My husband and I work in the fields together – doing a whole lot of assorted tasks, as we have a mixed crop farm. A normal day ends by around 10 pm.
LN: What does it mean to you that your co-operative, along with 4 other nut producing co-ops from Bolivia/El Salvador/Malawi and Nicaragua own 44% of Liberation Foods – the UK’s only Fairtrade nut company?
AR: In 2008 when FTAK hosted the INPC / Liberation Assembly in Kerala people asked us what the fuss was all about – And we said, we farmers residing in the remote hill tracts of Malabar are owning a company in London and all the people with whom we own the company are coming down to our place to have an assembly. It was a great moment for us to meet with all the people who were shareholders in Liberation. And now I am getting to visit the headquarters of the company.
LN: How do you feel about your trip to visit Liberation Foods London office and to celebrate National Nut Day in October?
I feel happy to visit Liberation office in London and to be part of the National Nut day celebrations. When we sold our cashews earlier in the market, before joining Fair Trade we did not know anything about what happened to it after that. Here I get to meet people whom it reaches, people who take it to the customers on our behalf.
I am nervous about being away from my home for so long. I only speak my native language Malayalam and I am a bit worried how I will manage to communicate with people who do not know Malayalam.
LN: What has been the best thing so far for you or your family or your community about selling Fairtrade nuts to Liberation?
AR: We joined Fair Trade Alliance Kerala through a special social premium project of FTAK. This programme was literally a lifeline for us farmers who were settled in remote, difficult to access hilly region of Kannur district. The crops, mainly coconut and areca nut had all been lost by various disease that affected the farms and most of us had been reduced to wage labour to make ends meet. Most of us were planning to sell our land and move to the plains where it would be easy to secure work on daily wages. The social premium that FTAK secured through the sale of its nuts to Liberation and others were utilized to run the project. There were three parts to the programme – one part was interest free loans to start some income generation activity that bought immediate relief to the families – to purchase cows, goats, poultry and so on that generated immediate income for the survival needs of the family. It helped bring food on the table. Medium term loans were given to plant seasonal and annual crops that enabled the land to be productive and took care of needs like educational expenses for children, cattle sheds, urgent house repairs etc. And then we also secured long term loans to help plant and grow long term crops like cashew, coffee, etc. to ensure that we had predictable sustainable returns from the farm. After the launch of the programme, hardly any family sold land and migrated away from the area.
LN: What do you think is the greatest challenge facing your community and/or the Fairtrade community?
Farming is still not an activity that we can confidently ask our children to join. I am quite concerned about the future of farming and whether our children will adopt it as a proud profession. The Fairtrade community all over the world must address this question and find means to ensure small holder farming continues.
LN: Tell us something we don’t know about FTAK?
AR: FTAK is the single largest group of certified organic farmers in Kerala. Our farms are located in the Western Ghats, declared by the United Nations as a World Heritage site.
Land ownership in Kerala / India is predominantly in the name of man. In FTAK we addressed this problem by delinking membership from land ownership. The membership in FTAK is for the farming family and can be represented in the organisation by any adult member, man or woman. The neighbourhood groups that are now emerging as the most important activity space of the organisation and the most important channel of utilizing social premium are mostly led by women.
Read Part 4 of Richard Coopers Liberation Visits Bolivia blog next week..
National Nut Day, 22nd October 2015