Author Archives: Mike King

Fairtrade for Wycombe Group selected as Campaigner of the Month

In the December Fairtrade Communities Bulletin published by the Fairtrade Communities Campaigns Team, High Wycombe was selected as campaigner of the month.

The entry was:

Since launching our new online platform in May, over 100 Fairtrade Communities have made a fresh Fairtrade commitment.

Now, we would like to begin celebrating some of the wonderful work that people have been sharing as part of their renewals. Throughout 2024 we will be celebrating campaigners regularly, so keep an eye out on social media and on our emails. 

But to start things off, congratulations to December campaigner of the month, the High Wycombe for Fairtrade group

Through the hard work from Mike King and the rest of the High Wycombe Fairtrade team, great things have been achieved over many years.

High Wycombe has been a Fairtrade Community for nearly a decade. During Fairtrade Fortnight 2023, Mike King delivered 6 15-minute presentations about the function of Fairtrade to 995 students in the local high school and ran the Celebration Coffee project, built on a long-standing partnership with a Fairtrade Community in Grecia, Costa Rica.

Partnering with the CoopeVictoria Fairtrade coffee producer group, Mike arranged to have their coffee roasted in the UK by a local roaster. This historic moment was part of an ongoing celebration of the partnership between High Wycombe and Grecia’s communities, a partnership fostered by a shared passion for Fairtrade.”

Coope-Victoria-coffee-2023-03

International Fair Trade Towns Conference – Glarus Nord, Switzerland 22-24th September 2023.

Attended by Mike and Sheena King from Wycombe for Fairtrade. (Only UK Fairtrade Town present)

Mike and Sheena King flew to Switzerland 4 days before the Conference for a short holiday, staying in the Alpine village of Filzback, overlooking the Glarus Valley. Stunning mountain scenery, alpine flower meadows, fresh air, a local chair lift, the sound of cowbells, all made for an enjoyable break.

IFTTC – Day 1 – Friday 22nd September 2023- Morning – Overview.

The IFTTC began with an early 40-kilometer coach trip to the Fairtrade Town of Vaduz, the capital of neighbouring Liechtenstein. Welcomed by the Mayor, the first plenary session and expert panel discussion focused on “Localizing Fair Trade”. Liechtenstein recognized the importance of supporting both tropical products and Fair Trade farmers, but also assisting local producers equally. Vaduz had produced a very useful town map with locations of Fair Trade outlets ass well as independent shops and markets selling locally produced food. Their mantra is “Local and Fair”. Combining Fair Trade sugar with locally grown wheat and maize, Liechtenstein had produced a very nice Fair Trade Beer, which we received as part of our lunch packs. There was also a trip by road train, cut short by the heavy rain, of their “World fields” project. The idea was to grow by organic means arable crops, buckwheat, rice, Ribel maize, and soya, on a 2000 square meter plot to calculate the amount of land needed to support one person. The intention is also to increase biodiversity.

Expert Panel discussions focused on exploring ideas and examples of increasing: –

  • South – South Fair trade – spurred on by the Covid pandemic when Northern exports were interrupted or halted.

and

  • North – North fair trade – applying Fairtrade principles to the poorest dairy farmers and wheat growers (France), blueberry growers, (Finland) and small – scale tomato growers (Southern Italy) – all on Fairtrade Terms.  Discussion around a Northern Fairtrade logo.

Afternoon – Overview

We arrived at the Lintharena, the main Conference venue on the outskirts of Nafels, in the Glarus Valley.

Welcome and Keynote Speech

2.00 pm The Mayor of Glarus – Nord Canton, totally Fairtrade, welcomed Conference delegates from all over the world. Glarus Nord became a Fair-Trade Zone in 2016. He stressed that Glarus Nord had proved that local businesses and the community can work together to make a sustainable contribution to the fight against worldwide poverty. Glarus has a long history in supporting and legislating for positive social changes, e.g. 1846 bill prohibiting child employment, 1848 bill prohibiting Sunday opening, 1916, the local General Assembly approved the first old age pension scheme in Switzerland. Over 2000 Fairtrade products are now available in Switzerland.

The Impact and Innovation of Fair Trade5 Speakers from Fair Trade projects around the world.

Maz Havelaar – Switzerland Please see separate report.

Get Paper Industry – Fairtrade Paper Project – Nepal – Please see separate report.

Cotton – Pravakar Meher – Please see separate report.

Tropical Almonds Project – Telmond Foods – Ghana – Dr. Eva Aganda – very innovative and fascinating  Please see separate report.

Fair Picture – Jorg Arnold – Breaking down stereotypical views of underdevelopment, poverty, backwardness of the global South. Please see separate report.

3.45 pm. Fair Public Procurement – Judge Marc Steiner

This Swiss Federal Judge gave a fascinating insight into the changes in Public Procurement since the World Trade Organization Government Procurement Agreement. The EU now recognizes that member states public procurement policies should incorporate sustainable, ecological, environmental, and socio-economic aspects. Public procurement in the European Union alone is worth a staggering 2.5 trillion euros per year. For further details please see the separate report.

4.25pm Global South Spotlight – 3 speakers

1. Get Paper Industry – Nepal – Milan

Milan stressed that Global South producers need a voice with full human rights for workers. The Get Paper Industry, based in Kathmandu, Nepal, is a social Fairtrade certified enterprise, producing handmade paper and stationery, making paper the old way using cotton rags as the raw material, with the paper formed by drying in the sun. Paper, paper bags, cards, and decorative boxes are produced, largely by a female workforce. Priority objectives include: –

  • Employment of formerly marginalized women
  • Empowerment of women in the business including management roles
  • Provide full training, education, and health facilities.
  • Sustainable employment

Please view Global South Spotlight report for full review.

2. WeltPartner, Germany, Fairtrade Importer and Wholesaler – Thomas Hoyer. MD.

Thomas Hoyer stressed that social businesses like Get Paper Industry have increased their social impact as well as their business development.  WeltPartner has around 60 Fairtrade partners worldwide accounting for over 1500 products, 93% of which are food products. They pride themselves on working only with smaller Fairtrade Cooperatives, getting the highest (fairest) prices possible, developing strong and lasting relationships with producers such as Get paper Industry.

Please view Global South Spotlight report for full review.

3. Tropical Almonds – Dr. Eva Aganda, Extension Services Manager, Telmond Foods,

With the tropical almond, Talmond Foods are introducing a novel, protein-rich food to the plant-based movement whose nutritional benefits are almost identical to those of the conventional almond, however, much more environmentally friendly. The milk from this Fairtrade certified product was initially aimed at the local population, then regionally, and finally internationally. Dr Agana stated that this new industry supported diversification away from traditionally grown products like bananas, cocoa, and palm oil. Talmond have recognized their local and regional customers too in this South – South trading pattern.

IFTTC – Day 2 – Saturday 23rd September 2023- Morning – Overview.

This was a busy full day with plenary sessions, expert panel discussions and workshops.

International Campaigns Updates & Strategies. Sat 23rd September 9.00 am. To 10.00 am.

Jonathan Janssens, Gent Fair Trade Region, Belgium.

Jonathan recognized that the secret to getting things done was to identify the: –

  • Right people
  • Right organization
  • And the right politician
  • Find out where their interests lie and in turn inform them of the principles of Fair Trade

Fair Trade Town Coordinator. Takashi Kobuki, Japan.

It was common in Japan with Fair Trade Town campaigns to use celebrities, famous athletes, professional footballers with links to a particular town. Famous sportsmen, sportswomen, and media personalities would have their own fan base, which could be influential by spreading the word.

Fleurance Laroppe, Saarbrucken Fair Trade Town, Germany.

Fleurance echoed the approach of the first speaker, Jonathan Janssens from Ghent Fair Trade. Saarbrucken was the first Fair Trade Town in Germany. Fleurance gave a very enthusiastic and energetic talk highlighting the need to: –

  1. Look for the people who make decisions.
  2. Identify cross-generational influencers and policy makers.
  3. Look across different cultures and identify successful advocates and campaigns.
  4. Identify organizations with good resources like schools, universities, businesses.
  5. Look for sponsorship or backing – No campaign can run without a budget.

Local University Schemes

There is a 10-year scheme running in local universities where interested students are paid to become Fair Trade Ambassadors to devise and deliver campaigns like “Fair For Fair”. However, in this post-Covid environment and cost of living rises, some universities are naturally cutting back on their pool of Fair Trade Ambassadors but are still retaining their “Fair Trade Plus” project.  It is hoped that these paid, part-time, young ambassadors will become Full-time activists within the Saarbrucken Municipality. Their training as ambassadors would give them a good insight into how Fairtrade operates and how local Fair Trade Town activists can make a difference.

Rex Asanga, Managing Chief Executive Officer, Bolgotanga Region, Ghana.

There is an annual regional Fair-Trade Festival and Fair with small-scale farmers, medium-sized producers, and local tribal chiefs all serve on the Fair Trade planning committee.  These key actors are the major stakeholders. They try to find sponsorship and exhibitors for this annual festival which these farmers and producers really value as an arena and showcase for their products.

Stakeholder Activation in the Fair-Trade Movement. Sat 23rd Sept 2023. 10.00 am. to 10.45 am.

Bianca De Wolf, Flanders Fair Trade, Belgium.

Biance de Wolf gave an interesting and detailed overview of the state of Fairtrade in Belgium. There are around 193 Fairtrade Towns in Belgium, shared between Flanders and the Dutch speaking part of Wallonia in Northern Belgium. The first Fairtrade town in Belgium was Ghent, certified in 2006.

The annual Fair Municipalities Meeting Day brings together everyone involved in the campaign to discover, inspire, network, and look ahead. The meeting intends to offer fresh ideas, new insights, and concrete examples to rejuvenate, expand, renew, or connect the local campaign with other sustainability themes in the fair municipality or city. And there is plenty of time and space to network with each other!

Young and older committed volunteers, members of the council of aldermen, civil servants: everyone will find something to their liking here.

Fair Trade Flanders did a SWOT analysis of Stakeholder needs and aims revealing

4 main findings: –

  1. Connecting with other Fair Trade Towns in Flanders 
  2. Broadening Fairness
  3. Rejuvenating Steering Groups who were all ageing with younger people.
  4. Renew approach with animated and real “Fair Trade Town Tours Tours”  with Fairtrade prizes.

Stakeholder Activation Expert Panel Session.

(Bianca De Wolf, Flanders Fair Trade; Giorgio Dal Fiume, WFTO, Italy; Jonathan Janssens, Ghent Fair Trade; Takashi Kobuki, Fair Trade Forum, Japan; Fleurance Laroppe, Fair Trade Saarbrucken; Jatta Makkula, National Coordinator Finland.

Expert Panel Conclusions: –

  1. It is not easy to invent something new or introduce a new approach
  2. Public procurement covers a wide area in addition to food. Fairtrade producers make handicrafts, textiles, clothes, paper, cosmetics, gardening gloves etc.
  3. There are always new actors/stakeholders that may want to be involved, especially in new sustainable and ethical areas.
  4. Create and share a joint vision with other stakeholders.
  5. Form alliances with sustainability, environmental, ecological, and local business groups.
  6. Always seek to engage and incorporate young people into discussions and plans, listening to their ideas and views.

Local Campaigning Roadmap – Workshop, Main Lintharena.  11.15 am to 12.30 pm.

Speakers and workshop focused on Fair Trade Network across Europe,  Asia and the Pacific region,  as well as Africa. The session looked at best practice, ideas, and challenges faced by local campaigning groups.

Speakers and workshop attendees agreed that local campaigns must be: –

  1. Fun and enjoyable – Fair Trade Wales has an online resources and practical help section to assist the 30 Fairtrade Groups operating in Wales.
  2. Engagement with the public – this will vary according to different stakeholder groups. Local or national government political support is very useful to have.
  3. Inclusive – especially significant engagement involving young people across a range of sectors including schools and colleges.
  4. Utilize resources available from sponsors, local authorities, schools, and colleges, as well as the online resources of the UK Fairtrade Foundation itself.
  5. Promoting Fairtrade products and logo. 93% of UK consumers are thought to recognize and trust the logo knowing that farmers will get a fair price for their purchases. Fair Trade challenges the existing sub-optimal free market trade conditions and associated social and economic inequalities.
  6. Local Fairtrade campaigns should also make connections that Fairtrade champions: –
    – gender equality
    – female empowerment
    – sustainable farming practices
    – organic production
    – reforestation
    – measures that mitigate climate change.

Youth Driving Fair Trade. Plenary Session. Sat 23rd September 2.00 pm.

Lisbeth Perez, Commercial Manager at Maquita Productores, Ecuador. Online

Lisbeth sited examples of young women becoming involved in Fairtrade cocoa production. Fairtrade has been instrumental in women acquiring and developing skills to obtain management and leadership roles in cocoa cooperatives in addition to working in community development projects like clean water, community health, and education. This has boosted the self-esteem of women and improved their basic human rights.

The Board of the company try to keep spaces and jobs for youth to learn by doing and to encourage Fairtrade advocates by: –

  1. Instigating training programmes for young people who want to learn.
  2. To reserve spaces for youth to gather and to encourage them to be “community minded”.
  3. Allow youth to be advocates of their own projects e.g., an affordability programme to transition to a greener approach for food production.
  4. Include youth in policy making and decisions.

Youth are welcomed in Fair Trade Town movements in Ecuador as they are the future.

Youth Driving Fair Trade. Panel Discussion. Main Lintharena. 2.00 pm to 3.00 pm.

Panel Members:
Simon – Fair Trade Advocacy Office – Brussels
Mayqueen – FairAfric – Ghana

Mayqueen focused on Africa’s Share in the Global Chocolate industry.

Many chocolate brands with the Fairtrade label provide a high incentive to cocoa farmers. However, many farmers have large families, so when children come to inherit their families land, the parcels of land grow smaller and farm size decreases. FairAfric pays around $2400.00 per tonne of raw cocoa. If this cocoa was processed into chocolate to add value, the price per tonne would increase to $10,000.00.

The price must be fair to the consumer as well as to the producer who grew the cocoa.

Simon thought that environmental and sustainable production needed to expand by investing in: –

  1. Biodegradable packaging and wrappers.
  2. Solar energy
  3. Climate neutral
  4. Reforestation schemes to improve soil fertility and retain water.
  5. Totally Organic production (this requires a higher premium to be paid to farmers)
  6. Create more cocoa production jobs in Ghana with gender equality built in.
  7. Create truly sustainable cocoa farming.
  8. Add new products.
  9. Retain greater control of cocoa production at source.
  10. Sell more Fairtrade cocoa to Fairtrade Chocolate companies like CLARO Fair Trade.

In 1997 the Claro fair trade cooperative was transformed into an Aktiengesellschaft according to the Swiss law. claro fair trade claims as ultimate goals the continuous improvement of the social, economic, and environmental situation of their producers. These include the minimization of middlemen in favour of direct cooperation with local partners and supporting social projects. Whenever possible, the products are certified by the Max Havelaar Foundation. This Business to Business direct transaction is becoming more popular.

An Education Liaison Project

This idea progressed in summer 2021 with letters sent by the Chairman of Wycombe For Fair Trade to secondary & grammar schools in High Wycombe addressed to the Heads of Geography, Sociology, & Business Studies, with the objective of establishing a working relationship with a school in our Fair Trade Partner Town of Grecia in Costa Rica.

A reply, received in October 2021, from Ms. Barker, then Head of Geography at Highcrest Academy in High Wycombe, who invited me to a teachers’ meeting in November 2021. Simultaneously, the Sustainability Manager at CoopeVictora, contacted the lead teacher, Laura Chaves, at the Colegio Experimental Bilingue de Grecia to enquire about connecting with a UK school.

Head teachers at Highcrest Academy were very enthusiastic about a potential link, citing many benefits including broadening pupils’ cultural understanding and perceptions by sharing lessons. The Highcrest principal gave his total backing to the project. The first joint Teams geography lesson took place in December 2021, with further shared classes occurring in March and April 2022, after the Colegio’s long summer break.

Pupils from both learning institutions seemed engaged and interested, and later even instigated their own independent email & Zoom “pen-pal” groups. Fair Trade is part of the Geography & Sociology GCSE & “A” level curricula, but there are plans to introduce Fairtrade to younger year pupils. During Fairtrade Fortnight in February 2022, Mike King delivered 6 x 15-minute Fair Trade themed school assemblies to all pupils about the philosophy of Fair Trade and how small farming communities are benefiting in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This provides small-scale farmers with access to world markets, receiving guaranteed fixed prices for their products, while obtaining a Fairtrade social Premium which could be invested in local community health, infrastructure, or education projects.

Ambassador Rafael Ortiz Fabrega, from the Embassy of Costa Rica in London presenting the Mayor of High Wycombe, Councilor Arif Hussain, with a Plaque from the Mayor of Grecia

A total of 995 pupils were engaged over the week, at the end of which, I was interviewed for a Highcrest internal TV programme. Highcrest ran a “Fairtrade Tuck Shop” & organized a competition involving pupils designing a Fairtrade chocolate bar wrapper containing one sentence catch-phrase to entice customers to buy the product. In 2023, Highcrest Academy applied to the Fairtrade Foundation to be registered as a FairAware school.

During Fair Trade Fortnight, on Monday 6th March 2023, Highcrest Academy hosted HE, Ambassador Rafael Ortiz Fabrega, from the Embassy of Costa Rica in London who presented the Mayor of High Wycombe, Councilor Arif Hussain, with a Plaque from the Mayor of Grecia, stating that Grecia and High Wycombe were sister Fair Trade Towns. Mayor Arif Hussain then graciously donated the plaque to Highcrest Academy in recognition of their sterling work in promoting Fair Trade in the curriculum, as part of school life, and because of the establishment and development of their teaching and cultural links with the Colegio Experimental Bilingue de Grecia, in Costa Rica. The plaque is now inserted on the school awards wall in the main foyer.

The plaque mounted on Highcreat Academy’s Awards Wall

Afterwards, Ambassador Ortiz officially launched the Grecia – High Wycombe Fair Trade Towns Partnership Celebration Coffee, the culmination of a year-long project. There were speeches of thanks followed by the all-important Celebration coffee tasting with “pan de elote “, a Costa Rican sweet corncake. The coffee and the dessert met with universal approval by 60 invited pupils and a dozen teachers.

Findings from Masteroast visit on Wednesday 5th July 2023 with Matthew Mills, owner, and Managing Director of Masteroast, Peterborough

A fascinating and enlightening 2-hour meeting with Matthew Mills including a tour of the modern coffee roasting and processing plant.

Masteroast is fundamentally an aggregator, ordering the coffee from source, most of it green bean, and roasting the coffee in one of 4 different sized roasters according to client specifications, in whole bean, ground, and 6 other variety types. Masteroast is not a wholesaler as they produce no coffee brands under their own name. They roast coffee for Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose, large national coffee shop chains, as well as smaller independent retail outlets and cafes. Masteroast also provides a variety of bagging, packaging, and types such as pods and coffee bags on different processing lines.

  1. Regarding the question surrounding the roasting of CoopeVictoria’s new “Esencia de Mujer”, Matthew informed me that Masteroast already roast 7 other female producer coffees for the UK market. CoopeVictoria commercial and marketing department would have to produce a video, online material, and promotional pamphlets indicating how their “Esencia de Mujer”, is different to other feminist coffees produced in Central America and the specific characteristics of this coffee in terms of acidity, colour, flavour, and other cupping notes. Matthew reiterated his offer to give CoopeVictoria a Promotional Day at Peterborough, later in the year inviting senior buyers and managers from UK national food industries, retail outlets and coffee chains to cup and taste their new women’s coffee. Masteroast has Fairtrade accreditation as well as Rainforest Alliance, Soil Association and EU environmental certification. Traceability is all done through barcodes to the amount batch, harvest bean type, when pciked roasted etc
  • I gave Matthew Mills a bag of the Roast Lab Grecia – High Wycombe Celebration Coffee whole beans for his research department to accurately test the roasting quality to allow precise replication for any further orders. The smallest quantity his company can roast is 10 kilos of raw bean coffee, in any style or format we like. 10 kilos would probably generate around 30 – 35 bags of 250g of roasted coffee.
  • Increasing the volume of CoopeVictoria Coffee sold in the UK

Discussions appeared to focus on 3 main alternatives, each with their own variations.

  1. Wycombe For Fairtrade has the Grecia – High Wycombe Fairtrade Towns Celebration Coffee roasted at Masteroast, with same or different label and sell independently as Masteroast is not a wholesaler or retailer.
  2. Find a larger, independent roaster who is a wholesaler as well with a larger client base and retail and /or catering contract outlets (Horsham Coffee Roasters) selling our coffee online as well as locally around High Wycombe.
  3. Find a larger, independent roaster who is a wholesaler with a large online client base but also with a sizable retail and catering contract outlets such as Kingdom Coffee, who have hundreds of churches, local authorities, independent cafes, and universities signed up. This can provide volume on top of the quality. Most are likely to have coffee machines hired from the wholesaler. (Darren has his coffee roasted by Masteroast.)
  • Increase sales of CoopeVictoria “Monte Camejo” and or “Esencia Mujer” by involving Kingdom Coffee in Reading. This would utilize his hundreds of churches, independent coffee shops, local councils, food industry machines, colleges, and universities, in addition to his large online home sales base. Kingdom Coffee is Fairtrade certified along with the roaster, Masteroast. The coffee would be processed according to the customer’s precise specifications. CoopeVictoria would need to provide as much information as possible from their marketing department as to the attributes of their feminine coffee brand and why it is different from all the other female producers coffee in the UK market e.g. bean type, acidity, washed, SCA score, flavour etc..
  • Darren needs to be involved in the next phase if Wycombe For Fairtrade is serious about upscaling the volume of coffee. It has to be good as margins in the UK coffee market are tight and expectations have to be realistic or tie in with a major brand name e.g. Starbucks. Idea not to spend too much money on marketing. Accessing the food services market is another potential area of opportunity in offices and shops. Cafeology (Fairtrade) have done this with sports centres. Find out how well the RoastLab produced Celebration Coffee sold in the retail outlets, like the Peterlee Farm shop, The Meat Hook, Flowerland etc. Sales and customer feedback.

Somebody must run the brand, cannot just throw money at it, have to get new coffees noticed in the tea and coffee trade journals. Also, someone must be the driver to sell it to wholesalers, retailers corporate and supermarket buyers as well as directly to the consumer. Costa Rican coffees have a long history, a good reputation, and are much respected.. Matthew’s experience of selling “green bean” coffee is not too difficult.

Mike KingChairman, Wycombe For Fairtrade

RoastLabs-new-roaster

Wycombe For Fairtrade members visit to RoastLab micro-roastery on Friday 6th January 2023.

Tony Thornby, Sheena, and Mike King visited Wayne and Sarah, owners of the RoastLab micro-roastery near Gerrards Cross: RoastLabs are specialists in sole origin coffee using high quality beans, ethically sourced and artisan roasted.

The main purpose of the visit was to taste various sample roasts of green coffee beans previously supplied by CoopeVictoria, a Fairtrade coffee producer located near to the High Wycombe’s Fairtrade partner Town of Grecia, situated in the Central Valley of Costa Rica. The sample green beans had been ordered from the Export Sales Manager at CoopeVictoria just before Christmas. The sample light-medium roasts displayed excellent subtle flavours of caramel and honey, while the darker and more bitter expresso roast had an aroma and taste of dark chocolate.

The RoastLab owners kindly bagged the test run roasted beans for Wycombe Fairtrade steering group members and supporters to sample.

Mike King was able to provide RoastLab with a batch of sample beans from the CoopeVictoria  harvest of November 2022 for some further testing. It was agreed by all parties to move on the next stage of providing a single origin Grecia – High Wycombe Fairtrade Towns Partnership Celebration Coffee by late March or early April 2023. RoastLab and Wycombe For Fairtrade agreed on 250g white foil-lined bags with a RoastLab front label indicating the type of coffee, roasting date, aroma and flavour details, and country of origin. Wycombe For Fairtrade in cooperation with Grecia and CoopeVictoria are working on a rear bag label showing images of Grecia and High Wycombe historic buildings and a short description for the reason for producing this coffee.

While awaiting the test roasting results of the 2022 green coffee bean harvest samples, Mike King agreed to progress with the ordering of 2 quintels, 2 x 46 kilos of “Monte Camejo” green beans and investigate the most economic way of transporting and delivering these beans to the UK, either directly from CoopeVictoria in Costa Rica with shipment via air or sea, or indirectly through any mainland Europe importer or wholesaler with recent stocks  We would order the necessary amount of green coffee to fill around 200 bags of roasted whole bean or ground coffee. While we want to keep transport and delivery costs to a minimum, Wycombe For Fairtrade will act on the advice of the Export Sales Manager at CoopeVictoria given the late March – early April 2023 deadline for the expected launch of this coffee locally in High Wycombe.

The Alternative Coffee Company

This B2B initiative started by three Fairtrade regions in the UK is now known as the Alternative Coffee Company and the first green beans had arrived in the UK by July 2022 from 5 small-scale Fairtrade coffee producers in Uganda and Rwanda.

The whole growing, supply chain, and selling will ultimately be Fairtrade Certified and link small-scale coffee farmers with independent roasters and cafes, bringing producers and consumers closer together and hopefully improving customer sovereignty and feedback information to all parties. There appear to be some immediate challenges but the trading methodology appears to be sound.

Grecia Trip – Wycombe for Fairtrade – Afternoon Wednesday 18th May 2022

Day 6 Weds 18th May 2022 – Early Afternoon

Visit to Grecia Cathedral

After an excellent lunch on the veranda at the CoopeVictoria Cafeteria, Mike and Sheena King were driven by Marie Angela to Grecia centre where we met Nora Suarez, the Deputy Mayor of Grecia, and Shirley from Grecia Fair Trade Committee, who showed us around the beautiful Roman Catholic Cathedral (Iglesia de la Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes), which is made entirely from sheet steel.

 Caption: Sheena, Maria Angela, Shirley, and Nora Suarez in the central aisle looking towards the main entrance.

Caption: Interior of Grecia Cathedral looking towards central altarpiece.

The bright red house of worship was built in the late 19th century out of plates of imported Belgian steel. The separate plates have been plainly riveted together and the whole building painted red.  Given the odd make-up of the building, several legends regarding the reasons behind the church’s construction have appeared over the years. One zany theory is that the church, having been imported from Europe, was meant for Greece, but got sent to the slightly similar sounding town of Grecia. Another story says that it was meant for Chile but, due to bureaucratic quicksand, the building simply settled in Grecia. However, the truth behind the building would seem to be the one answer no one wants to believe: that the church was simply purchased by the local government and a group of investors.

Caption: Beautiful Cathedral side chapel altarpiece containing many carvings and statues.

Caption: Looking back to main Cathedral entrance with organ loft and lovely stained-glass windows giving good idea of scale.

The Cathedral is located in the centre of the town in front of the park and a pond. It is the focal point of Grecia and is as imposing as it is impressive. The interior of the Cathedral is just as impressive as the exterior, with beautiful stained-glass windows, icons, and alters with carved figures and statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus.

Caption: Grecia Cathedral interior with many carvings, icons and relics devoted to various saints.

Farewells: Municipal Council Chamber and Tour of Grecia Municipal Market

We returned to the Grecia Municipal Council Chamber to say our fond farewells to Nora and Shirley. They gave Mike and Sheena King gifts including a superbly baked cake and a bag of gifts for the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of High Wycombe. Mike was interviewed along with Marie Angela by the local newspaper report and live radio broadcast. After coffee and pastries, we were also shown a couple of videos by the Grecia Municipal Market Manager of the town as well as the historic indoor market.

Indoor Market

Nora, Shirley, Marie Angela, and the Market Manager then gave us an interesting tour of the famous indoor covered market. This had been going for over 100 years and currently was occupied by 94 small, family-run, independent stallholders selling local, homemade products such as food, clothes, shoes, crafts, snacks, and artisanal goods based on local crafts. Large supermarkets and chain stores were banned from this area. There were many interesting murals adorning the tiled walls and passages in the market interior. The local craftsmen and artists had created some inspiring and beautiful depictions of Costa Rican wildlife, animals, birds, forests, and water scenes, as well as depicting historic crafts reflecting the local indigenous culture.

The covered market was open 6 days a week with around 1500 people during weekdays rising to 5,500 visitors on Saturdays. Our impression was of a thriving market providing a good meeting place for the local community as well as offering good quality organic food at reasonable price in the “sopas” (snack bars and mini store).  

Grecia Trip – Wycombe for Fairtrade – Morning Wednesday 18th May 2022

Day 6 Weds 18th May 2022  Morning – Visit to the FANAL Sugar Cane Distillation Plant

Marie Angela, Greg, and Andres from CoopeVictoria, Sheena, and Mike toured the FANAL sugar cane distillation plant just outside Grecia town, at the invitation of the former Mayor of Grecia, Mainor Molina.

FANAL is a state-owned and managed plant. The plant manager showed us around this interesting and fascinating distillery that extracts methanol from liquid heated from sugar cane liquor, converting it into a range of products, mainly Cacique, a Costa Rican 40% proof rum. Interestingly, Cacique was only allowed to be sold for public consumption within the boarders of Costa Rica only and was not for export.

Caption: FANAL plant. Storage takes containing 2 million liters of sugar cane liquor.

Caption: Heated distilled cane liquour condenses and captured according to alcholol level. 40% proof for Cacique, 90% proof is piped to holding tanks for the health industry.

After the methanol has been extracted by heating the sugar cane alcohol and cooling the steam through heat exchangers, the 94% proof alcohol was diluted down to 40%. Then, the cooled rum goes by a series of pipes to the bottling plant. The remaining industrial strength alcohol was transferred to giant storage tanks awaiting collection by road tankers for transport to processing plants that utilized the 90%+ strength alcohol that was used to make surgical wipes and anti-bacterial hand gels. These gels and wipes were and still are widely used during the global Covid outbreak and in the post Corona virus era.

Caption: Bottling plant production line new bottles being filled with Cacique.

Caption: Filled bottles move on to the capping machine for their tops.

We all received gifts of our visit which included bags, baseball caps advertising Cacique, as well as a liter bottle of rum each. Some of CoopeVictoria’s sugar cane was used by FANAL in its processing.

Caption: FANAL plant director with Mainor Molia, a former Mayor of Grecia.

Caption: End of the production line. Bottles are packed 12 to a box for distribution across Costa Rica.

Grecia Trip – Wycombe for Fairtrade – Afternoon Tuesday 17th May 2022

Day 5 Tuesday 17th May 2022 – Afternoon

Visit and Tour of the Colegio Experimental Bilingue de Grecia

After an excellent lunch as guests of UNAGUAS, Maria drove us to the Liceo Experimental Bilingue de Grecia, where we were greeted by three final year geography students, Lester, Adrianna, and Viorela, whose command of English and manners were impeccable. They showed us around the whole school, including two ongoing English classes, where Mike was invited to talk to the pupils in English describing life in England and his observations on Costa Rica. So important is English, that the timetable allocates 14 hours per week for each student to learn English, compared to only 4 hours per week for Spanish lessons and 3 hours per week for French! The school seemed very well appointed with classrooms and positive posters and slogans on the walls advocating effort and achievement. There was a bias towards the arts, languages, and social sciences. However, there seemed to be a shortage of computers and a lack of science labs.

Laura Chaves, the Academic Director, also accompanied us around the school. Mike and Sheena were introduced to the school principal, who welcomed us in Spanish and was very complementary about the recent partnership between the Highcrest Academy in High Wycombe where 6th form Geography pupils were having joint Zoom lessons with teachers in Grecia and Highcrest and vice versa.  Some of the pupils had establish email “pen pals” with fellow pupils in High Wycombe.

After the tour, we were invited to the staff room where we had drinks and homemade plain and cheese tortillas, as well as gluten and sugar free snacks. Maria even met one of her former English teachers. Mike told the pupils and staff in Spanish what Colette Barker, the Head of Geography at Highcrest Academy, had reported about the benefits to teachers and pupils, of the initial partnership with the Colegio Experimental Bilingue de Grecia. Colette hoped that this liaison would continue through the following academic year. Lester then told us of his positive experiences linking with a pupil from Highcrest Academy who had similar interests to Lester.

There was even time for a photo opportunity with Mike and Sheena King from Wycombe For Fairtrade, Colegio pupils Lester, Adrianna, and Viorela, Maria Angela from CoopeVictoria, Laura Chaves, the Academic Director, and the English Teacher from the Liceo.

We were made to feel extremely welcome at the school. Mike and Sheena King were particularly impressed by the pupils and by the positive learning experiences and encouragement which permeated through the school. Our 2-hour visit seemed to flash by, and it was time to say our “farewells” and express our thanks to our friendly hosts at the Liceo.

Caption: Maria Angela’s photo of Mike and Sheena King with the pupil guides, Lester, Adrianna, and Fiorella to their left. On the extreme left-hand side is Laura Chaves, the Deputy Academic Director at the Liceo and the lead link teacher with Highcrest Academy in High Wycombe. Maria Angela is on the extreme left with an old English teacher.