Fairtrade Challenge #1
Rwanda is a Landlocked Country
Rwanda is a small landlocked country in East Africa. Instead of having a coastline, it is bordered with several countries - Uganda to the North, Tanzania to the East, Burundi to the South and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the West.
The consequences of the geographical location of Rwanda have a massive impact of international trade.
When I need to collect fair trade goods from Rwanda to support genocide survivors and victims of gender based violence, the only way that I can get to the goods is to fly there myself. This costs at aroun £650.00 to £900.00 depending on the time of year. The other option, of course is to transport the goods, but flying it out is as much as my flight, so I might as well go there and give the women some support at the same time.
Can't you send it to Kenya and ship it from there? Unfortunately, this would actually work out more expensive from Rwanda. The cost of petrol and the extortionate taxes on the borders mean that this would push the cost higher than air freight or flights.
The fact that Rwanda is a landlocked country is one of the key reasons why companies are reluctant to travel to Rwanda.
Fairtrade Challenge #2
The Cost of Living in Rwanda
Did you know that the cost of living is relatively high in Rwanda compared to it's East Africa neighbours such as Tanzania and Uganda. If you eat out in Kigali, it will probably cost as much as a meal out in the UK or US. Rent, food and education are all high costs that Rwandan families are up against. A litre of milk will work out at about 50p, and a loaf of bread around £1.00 - certainly not cheap for Africa.
The high cost of living is again related to the location of Rwanda, and the fact that it is not easy to import and export. Another reason that Rwanda is so expensive is linked to it's infamous past of genocide. The government of Rwanda have done an amazing job of rebuilding Rwanda, but, of course, this doesn't come without a cost. Taxes can be high.
What are the consequences of this on fairtrade? Well, with the cost of living being so much higher, we have to pay the women we support a higher amount to ensure that it is fair trade. For example, a fair wage that I could pay a Kenyan or Indian crafter would be much less than what I would have to pay a Rwandan crafter. Again, another reason why many companies avoid trading with Rwanda.
My Kigali Crafts Interview
Setting up a Fairtrade Social Enterprise with Rwanda
Fairtrade Challenge #3
The Language Barrier
In Rwanda, they have their own dialect Kinyarwanda, of which I speak a few words. Some of the more educated speak French, as Rwanda is an ex-Belgian colony. My French is limited to just a few sentences! Needless to say the language barrier is a challenge.
Saying that, it is relatively easy to get a good translator in Kigali, although again, this can be quite costly. In a few years, this challenge should improve, as the national language of Rwanda is changing from Francophone (French speaking) to Anglophone (English speaking). Although this educational change will pose teething problems for the Rwandan education system itself.
Fairtrade Challenge #4
Lack of Technology
If you are ordering from a fairtrade supplier abroad, you usually communicate via telephone or the internet. Unfortunately, this is not always the case with Rwanda! Many of the women we support don't have mobile phones or internet access. Communication is extremely difficult unless you are actually there. This brings us back to the problem of flight prices.
Another way to overcome this challenge is to use a middle man - an ethical businessman who can collect the products and do the shipping for you. This needs to be someone very trustworthy, and also opens up a whole new can of worms - checking your checker! The responsibility of fairtrade ultimately lies with the company themselves, so using a middle man means that you need to take responsibility for checking the process and the wages of the artesans. This in itself can be a lengthy and challenging task in a country like Rwanda.
Fairtrade Challenge #5
The Kenyans have something that the Rwandans don't seem to have developed yet - the ability to Quality check. Until this is developed in Rwanda, it will be difficult for the Rwandans to catch up with the Kenyans businesswise.
If you live in a country that has been torn apart by civil war and genocide, and is now suffering from the aftermath of trauma, HIV and poverty, it's no surprise that most Rwandans are still living hand to mouth. In this situation, many do not think much beyond than the next day or week, the main issue is where their next meal is coming from. Needless to say that they have probably never left the country and therefore have no idea of the retail standard expected in the UK and the US.
When we come up against quality problems, we try to return to the co-operative and explain what they need to do to start selling to us again. However, this process could be years of development. In the meanwhile, we search for other Rwandan co-operatives who are closer to the retail standards that we require, while the others catch up!