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Meet The Maker: Equifruit

Meet Jennie, the President of Equifruit! Equifruit is Canada's leading Fairtrade-certifed Banana Importer. Since the beginning, we have only sourced Fairtrade Bananas on our market! Read more to learn all about Fairtrade Certification, why it is important, the banana industry, and what Equifruit is doing to change the game. 

Fresh City: How and when did Equifruit start?

Jennie Coleman: Equifruit was founded in 2006 by a mother-daughter duo from Quebec, and they get credit for building initial relationships with banana growers and introducing Fairtrade bananas to the Quebec market.  They moved on to other things and I bought the business in 2013. We like to say that we’ve been “fair from the start”, meaning that 100% of the fruit we’ve brought into Canada has been bought and sold on Fairtrade terms – but also that we are always keeping our grower partners in Peru and Ecuador top of mind. 

Though Canadians love bananas (we consume over 15kg per capita each year), most of us don’t think about where this fruit is grown, by whom and under what conditions.  Through our work in building awareness of the need for Fairtrade bananas, we are advocating for that first link in our supply chain:  small producers and banana plantation workers. 

FC: What does Fairtrade mean when it comes to farmers, product prices and general banana production?

JC: The banana industry has a long and sordid history, built on a business model which got us cheap bananas here in North America by paying little for land and labour back at origin in Central and South America.  These practices continue to this day, but Fairtrade seeks to rebalance trading relationships between small producers and buyers, and to provide fair pay and safe working conditions for plantation workers. Fairtrade’s standards team works with producers to set minimum pricing for their products based on the cost of sustainable production:  this means that they look at what it costs to produce bananas while still paying people fairly, ensuring respect of occupational health and safety standards and farming while making environmental stewardship a priority. 

These prices are revised each year, and become the transparent floor price for buyers.  Equifruit will never pay below that floor price, and though we sign long-term contracts with our growers, if market prices surpass these floor prices (which is rare), producers can negotiate pricing upwards.  This pricing stability is one of the key tenets of Fairtrade.

FC: Can you explain what "social premiums" are?

JC: Social premiums are an additional amount which buyers contribute, over and above the cost of the actual fruit, and which are used by the cooperatives Equifruit works with to invest in a range of projects, from building capacity at co-op level to investing in local community development projects (think schools and health centres).  Fairtrade social premiums can be freely consulted on Fairtrade International’s website, and for bananas are set at 1 USD / standard 40lb case. This doesn’t sound like much – but at the rate we eat bananas, it adds up fast and has real impact!  It’s important to note that it is not Equifruit who decides how those social premium funds will be spent, but the members of the cooperatives themselves who vote democratically on a list of projects which they put forward.  They know best what their community needs!

FC: As consumers, how can we make sure we're actually purchasing Fairtrade bananas?

JC: All of Equifruit’s bananas are certified by Fairtrade Canada, the local office of the international Fairtrade certification body.  Both buyers and sellers are subject to rigorous audits and reporting requirements, and you can check the status of players in the Fairtrade system on their 3rd party auditor’s site.  Both trading parties need to be in good standing with Fairtrade for us to be allowed to market our products as Fairtrade. Look for the Fairtrade mark on bananas, coffee, sugar, tea, chocolate – even cotton, flowers and wine!

FC: Can you tell us a little bit more about how Fairtrade has a direct impact on the everyday life of banana farmers?

JC: Outside the Fairtrade system, banana farming is very precarious:  the market is still controlled by a handful of large exporters who are buying at prices which will satisfy North American consumers’ appetite for cheap bananas.  With volatile pricing and inconsistent demand, many farmers operate at barely subsistence levels.  Equifruit works with cooperatives of small producers who would normally have very little power in the global marketplace.  Once they’re in contracts with a buyer like Equifruit which respect that Fairtrade minimum price, they know that they can farm sustainably to protect their livelihoods, their health and their lands.  With price stability, they can do things you’d expect of a small business, such as investing in farm improvements and – importantly – hiring outside help at fair wages so their own children can go to school.  As the social premium has a community focus, the impact is felt beyond the members of the cooperative: so while the banana farmers themselves might benefit from investments in their local school, so will their neighbours’ children – and the whole community is lifted up.

 

FC: Is there anything you'd like to add about Fairtrade that might be a misconception?

JC: Fairtrade is not charity.  Fairtrade is trade, it’s business within an ethical framework with transparent standards on economically, socially and environmentally sustainable production.  The higher price we pay in Canada on Fairtrade bananas is not a donation to farmers, it is a reflection of the true cost of production in an industry which has for decades required small producers and plantation workers to subsidize bananas for us here through low wages, poor working conditions and toxic environmental standards. Let’s kick years of bad banana business practices to the curb.

Interested in winning 5 FREE bunches of Fairtrade Equifruit Bananas in your future Fresh City deliveries? Enter our Instagram Giveaway Contest for your chance to win! 

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