Fair is when all benefit
Once a year, Oikocredit brings together a partner and investors in its annual road show. This time around, it was the turn of Athanas Matheka, co-founder of Greenforest Foods Limited in Kenya.
What is fair trade for you Mr Matheka?
Athanas Matheka: In my view, an essential part of fair trade is knowledge. The most important questions of the producers are: how do I produce good products that are wanted, and how do I get the products to the people? Those who wants to act fair, must inform and educate. If farmers had more information, they would benefit more. Fair trade also means helping producers to deliver good quality.
We do fair trade our way. We know our producers and pay the farmers individually, so we know the money arrives with them. On the day of collection we weigh the peanuts, and as soon as the truck is full, we pay our suppliers immediately via the mobile payment service M-Pesa. They do not need a bank account, very few people in Kenya have one, only a mobile phone and just about everyone has one.
What is your contribution to fair trade as an entrepreneur?
Athanas Matheka: We commit ourselves to producing safe and nutritious food for consumers, in a sustainable way, to make our work transparent to all those involved, to pay fairly and to create a safe working environment for employees. We agree on pre-harvest prices with the farmers, so that they know whether they want to work with us or not.
Would FAIRTRADE certification be a desirable goal for your business?
Athanas Matheka: It would be good to have both organic and fair trade certifications. For us, it would mean a market advantage. On my journey here, I have been approached by some small companies in Germany. The market is ready, but the producers are not. They produce small quantities and are struggling to make ends meet. So far, I have only informed myself about the organic certification. It's complicated and expensive for a small business like us, and every single producer must be certified. That's not possible without support.
What do you have to contend with as a comparatively small company?
Athanas Matheka: We produce natural honey, beeswax and peanuts. Fair trade also means that everyone must have equal access to the market. That's not the case. We are dependent on the government and are currently excluded from exporting honey to Europe because there is no national export “residue monitoring plan” in Kenya.
Beekeeping in Kenya is a climate friendly alternative to livestock. Livestock farming leads to environmental pollution, damage to the soil and conflicts in most regions, as resources such as water and pasture are becoming scarcer as a result of climate change. The African bee is also resilient, not prone to diseases and epidemics and we do not use antibiotics in bee colonies. Our beeswax samples have been analysed in Germany and are food safe.
What does the cooperation with Oikocredit mean for Greenforest Foods?
We met Oikocredit when we needed it most. The cooperative provided us with urgently needed financing in 2014. Nobody else wanted to do that, without real certainties. In 2015, when three of our key customers went bankrupt and we lost € 40,000, Oikocredit extended our loan to help us get back on track. Since then, we have been able to buy new machines, increase the number of our employees from 10 to 39, gain more partners along the value chain and more customers, including two international retailers, a regional airline and a restaurant chain.
What are you fighting for today?
Athanas Matheka: I see myself as an equal opportunities activist. It is particularly important to me that women play a more important role in both business and political leadership. I grew up in modest rural circumstances. Whenever there were problems, it was usually the women who solved them. Women are better at dealing with money and they are the largest producer group. In Kenya, the men are the landowners. We encourage them to leave running the country to women when they seek work elsewhere. Women deserve more and where fair trade works, women can participate properly. They can lease land, grow and become economically stronger. This benefits families and communities.
ABOUT GREENFOREST FOODS
Greenforest Foods Limited in Kenya, founded in 2000, is owned in equal shares by Athanas Matheka and his wife Catherine Mutiso. Main products are honey, peanuts, cashews and beeswax, which are exported to the EU and Japan. In 2018, the company made € 693,000 in sales. Target markets are Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. The company currently has around 40 employees and works with a total of 5,000 farmers in Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi. Greenforest Foods has been working with Oikocredit since 2014.