Bahia, a state in Northwest Brazil, is known for its white, sandy and palm-fringed beaches and its tropical climate. The hot and dry Sao Francisco Valley some 600 km inland in the far North of the state is less well known and doesn’t feature in many guide books. With its mango and lime plantations, arrow straight rows of vines and acres of melon and onion fields the valley is one of Brazil’s most important regions for fruit and vegetable production. Several dams have turned the Sao Francisco River into a huge inland lake. Its water has transformed this semi-arid plain into fertile agricultural land.
Casa Nueva is a small town at the bottom end of the lake. ‘All our workers live in Casa Nueva, most of them come to work by bike, you just have to cross the bridge and you’ve reached the plantation’, says Amrit Mohanani, production manager at Pritam Frut.
Some 20 years ago the family started growing fruit in the Sao Francisco Valley (Amrit’s father is in charge of marketing and export). The climate is ideal for mangoes which can be harvested from about August to the end of December. Unlike mangoes, limes are not seasonal, they grow and ripen year round. Because limes can be harvested continuously Amrtit Mohanani can employ around 90 workers full time to look after some 50,000 mango trees and 25,000 lime trees. During the height of the mango harvest another 150 seasonal workers are needed, they work shifts in the pack house, getting the mangoes ready to be exported.
Pritam Frut has been Fairtrade certified since 2008. ‘In Brazil lots of things don’t work the way they do in Europe’, says Amrit Mohanani, ‘but compared to southern Brazil our people up here in the north are really disadvantaged. Healthcare is a lot worse, schools aren’t funded properly, nothing is as good as it should be and we just want to do everything we can to improve the situation.’
In the past 10 years the workers have used the Fairtrade premium for numerous projects: from dental care to grants that allow workers to upgrade their houses, fix leaking roofs, install proper, safe wiring, put in new floors or build an extension. And there are various ways to get training and education. A math and a science teacher help students prepare for the exam that will get them into higher education, a Portuguese teacher helps adults improve their reading and writing skills (as youngsters some had little chance to attend school and are only semi literate). And there are computer classes. Amrit Mohanani paid for a small, purpose built classroom and covers the running costs so that the Fairtrade money could be spent on buying 10 computers. Computer training courses cover everything from computer literacy to programming.
The seasonal workers benefit from the Fairtrade premium, too: every month they receive a basket full of basic foods like rice, flour and pasta.
The Pritam Frut plantation receives enough Fairtrade money to realise a fairly large number of Fairtrade projects because enough customers are keen to buy Fairtrade limes and mangos: 30 – 40% of the fruit can be sold under Faitrtrade conditions, says Amrit Mohanani. Compared with other Fairtrade producers that is a relatively high percentage. Workers in the Sao Francisco Valley hope that their Fairtrade customers will keep on buying – they don’t just want to continue the current projects but hope to add some new ones, too.