If we’re lucky enough to see some sun this bank holiday weekend, I’m sure many of you will be firing up the barbecue. But I bet there are very few who give a thought to the charcoal you pick up to provide your al fresco feast.
Having recently returned from Namibia, I will be giving it some thought, because I’ve seen first hand how much hard work goes into the production of charcoal.
If you are using Co-op charcoal of the instant lighting variety, you are supporting people in Namibia through our exclusive Fair Trade product.
It’s the only Fair Trade charcoal in the world and was developed back in 2009 with Traidcraft and our supplier Rectella.
This Fair Trade charcoal helps make lives better for the burners and workers who endure some of the most difficult jobs I have seen.
How Fair Trade helps burners and workers
Burners set up camps on private farms for months at a time in Namibia’s desert like conditions. Here, they are employed by farmers to chop back the thorny invader acacia bushes to recover unproductive farmland.
Chopping bushes, avoiding the razor sharp axe, snakes and scorpions while enduring the burning African sun in thick overalls and boots is one tough job – as I found out when given the opportunity to help out. One day’s work results in around 1 1/2 tonnes of wood which is then loaded into a kiln and burned for three days.
It’s a science knowing when to seal the kiln and stop the burning. It’s vital that carbonised wood (charcoal) is the result not charred branches otherwise it’s a day’s wasted labour. After four days of cooling the kiln is emptied and the burners sieve, sort and sack the charcoal. The resulting wood is burned down to 250-300kg with a value of around £14 to the burner.
Back on camp, the burners explain that the metal houses they live in are thanks to Fair Trade and provide much needed protection from snakes, scorpions and rain showers.
The gruelling jobs continue at the factory where the sacks are sorted, sieved, and wax bathed so the charcoal becomes “instant lighting” then finally packaged for consumers.
Fair Trade also supports the workers at the factory where there is a large greenhouse complete with a water system that filters the factory grey water and irrigates the fresh produce – all paid for by Fair Trade premiums. Their Premium Committee told me how workers are using Fair Trade funds to buy zinc sheeting so they can build or extend their homes in the nearby town. In fact they commute on bicycles provided with Fair Trade funding.
Since 2009, over £75,000 has supported the workers in Namibia through Co-op Fair Trade.
Fair Trade is making a real difference to people’s lives and it has certainly changed the way I will think about charcoal. When I light my barbecue this weekend I will be toasting a glass of Fairtrade wine to the hardworking people who made it possible.
Fairtrade Strategy Manager