Well, they certainly work together like a well-oiled machine, and the lady from Cardiff, Helen, seemed impressed!
It was a well-attended meeting at Tomatitos last night, packed onto the gallery at the back of the pub, where the white wall could be used as a film and slideshow screen. Free teas and hot chocolates were available, as well as nuts (all Fairtrade, of course), for a donation to the Malawi flood appeal. Shared Interest, a group that gives loans to Fairtrade projects, and which the Hay Fairtrade Group have been supporting for several years, promised to double whatever was collected to go to Malawi.
There was a film and two speakers - the film showed tea farmers in Malawi, describing their work and what they have done in the co-operative with the Fairtrade premium. They were very proud of their ambulance, which had saved the lives of the daughters of one of the narrators when they came down with malaria, and another speaker was very pleased with the motorbike they'd been able to buy. Sadly, the floods were very bad this year, and several of the people in the film had lost their livlihoods as a result. They work so hard to better themselves, and then something like that comes along and knocks them right back to the beginning again.
The first speaker was Allan Saidi, a sugar farmer from Malawi, who explained how sugar is grown, including the part where they bend the canes to frighten away wild animals before they harvest it, including snakes and elephants! They have bought two trucks with the premium, which deliver fertiliser to the farmers, and take people to hospital, and collect farmers to take them to the co-operative meetings.
They have also built a primary school - Allan's daughter (there was a picture) is six, and goes there, and he seemed so proud. The government provide the teachers when they have built the school.
There's also a clinic, and the largest hall in the district is being built at the moment, to be used for community events. He also showed pictures of his old, mud brick house, and his smart new house.
Another thing they have bought is a tractor, to dig irrigation trenches and for other farm work, which means they no longer have to hire tractors at great expense, and so have that extra cash in their pockets.
Bore holes have also been built, which means the women no longer have to go to the river to collect water - where there are crocodiles. Allan said that a couple of the farmers have lost their arms to the crocodiles.
When they started there were just over 100 farmers in the co-op, and now there are over 700. He was elected secretary, which means he also has responsibility to see that the farmers abide by the Fairtrade standards in their farming, such as health and safety, and sending their children to school rather than working on the farm.
However, the future is uncertain for them, due to EU rules which are coming in in 2017, which will favour European sugar beet farmers over African sugar cane farmers. One of the things he was doing while in the UK was trying to lobby MPs to help.
Oliver Balch was the second speaker, because he has recently been on a visit to Nicaragua to visit Fairtrade coffee plantations and a sesame seed producer. There they have been having problems with a disease which attacks the coffee bushes - but the fact that they are not isolated, but gathered together in co-operatives, means that they can get back on their feet faster.
They were also proud of what the Fairtrade premium had brought to their districts - including Eco-latrines! There's a strong environmental component to the Fairtrade co-ops there, including retaining areas of cloud forest instead of clearing them for extra growing space.
They have been installing new wood burning ovens in the houses, with chimneys. They are more efficient than the old style, and cut down on the cases of TB in the community, which was exacerbated by the smoke. One village has installed a communal oven, where the women can bake cakes and biscuits to sell in the local market to make extra money.
They are very keen on expanding local markets for their crops as well as the export trade. They also run courses on women's rights and similar issues.
One of the questions that came up at the end of the talks was why some crops from a co-op were sold as Fairtrade and some were sold as ordinary crops on the open market, even though it was all Fairtrade. The reason in a lot of cases is that they cannot find enough buyers for the Fairtrade produce, so have to sell the rest where they can.
In West Bengal, apparently, the best tea is sold at a premium anyway, to places like Fortnum and Masons, leaving the second best, ordinary tea for the Fairtrade market, and then whatever they can get for the rest. So, they need to expand the Fairtrade markets, and they can only do that if people here in the UK buy Fairtrade products wherever they see them.
Allan Saidi spent this morning at Hay School, talking to the children there, which went very well. On Friday, there will be hot chocolate provided at the school, and on Sunday teas on the Cobbles by the Castle.