Twin: a pioneer, leader and innovator of the fair trade movement
Liz Evers has been the Communications Manager at Twin and Twin Trading Ltd since 2011. A long-time supporter of fair trade, she has a background in sustainable development and ethical finance.
The name Twin may not be familiar to those outside fair trade circles. But this small, hard-working organisation is the driving force behind many well-known, fair trade brands and has played a key role in improving conditions for thousands of smallholders in the developing world during its 25 year-plus history.
Twin’s is a unique model: it is a trade development charity working with smallholder farmers in some of the hardest hit regions of the world, and through its commercial arm, a trading company (http://www.twin.org.uk/trading), which can create valuable market access for these smallholders, buying and selling their produce at fair prices. Any profits from its trading activities go straight back into projects on the ground to strengthen smallholder organisations and help them grow.
Twin’s approach to trade development is based on the principles of partnership and ‘acompañamiento’, an expression in Spanish that describes a long-term relationship based on solidarity and a shared vision and mission. It builds long-term partnerships with smallholder organisations, working closely with them to organise and develop their businesses, strengthen their capacity in product quality and market access. Particular focus is given to supply chain management, providing producers with market information and business planning, quality improvement systems, risk management assistance and export capacity building.
Twin is a membership organisation, currently with 32 producer members – coffee, cocoa and nut co-operatives and unions from across Latin America and Africa organisations – and 26 individual members from the world of fair trade and development. Members are at the heart of Twin’s decision-making, electing council representatives and defining the organisation’s strategic priorities.
Today, Twin is a leading importer of Fairtrade commodities, chiefly coffee, in the UK – working with over 50 democratic farmer organisations in 18 countries representing some 400,000 smallholder farmers.
“Twin is not just a pioneer but a hero of our fair trade movement, with fantastic expertise in the building and strengthening of small farmer organisations, and development of the most innovative business models. Their vision and partnership approach has enabled small farmers to strengthen their position in global trade, take more control of production and export, and to own some of the UK’s most loved 100% Fairtrade brands.” – Harriet Lamb, Executive Director, Fairtrade Foundation
Established in 1985 as the Third World Information Network, Twin spent its formative years trading and exchanging goods from countries excluded from international trade opportunities for political reasons, such as Cuba, Nicaragua and Mozambique.
The collapse of the International Coffee Agreement in 1989 focussed Twin’s attention on coffee and trying to get the best price for smallholders in the world’s most deprived areas. Pioneering the fair trade concept in the UK, Twin imported its first container of coffee on credit in 1989 and went on to set up the very first Fairtrade certified coffee brand, Cafédirect (http://www.cafedirect.co.uk/), in 1991.
Other consumer-facing brands launched by Twin included Divine Chocolate (established 1997 and co-owned by Ghanaian cocoa co-operative Kuapa Kokoo), AgroFair UK (launched 2001 to market new Fairtrade-certified fresh fruits in Britain for the first time), and Liberation Foods CIC (launched 2007, co-owned by smallholder organisations and now the UK’s No.1 importer and supplier of Fairtrade-certified nuts).
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Twin’s projects in the developing world
Twin’s mission is to develop projects and trade opportunities for the poorest and most marginalised in the trading chain. It has recently begun working and trading with coffee co-operatives in the conflict-effected Democratic Republic of Congo (http://www.twin.org.uk/projects/bringing-new-producers-market-democratic-republic-congo) for example, and is dedicated to reinvigorating the ailing groundnut industry in Malawi (http://www.twin.org.uk/projects/reinvigorating-groundnut-sector-malawi-and-southern-africa) – to increase income from exports, but also to provide a much-needed source of safe nutrition domestically.
To this end Twin recently opened a new peanut processing plant, Afri-Nut Ltd, in Malawi’s capital Lilongwe (http://www.twin.org.uk/projects/afri-nut-ltd-landmark-groundnut-processing-plant-malawi). This facility is part-owned by the National Smallholders Association of Malawi and adds significant value for its producer-owners. It is also a key part of Twin’s long-term vision to improve the quality and safety of groundnuts for domestic consumption in Malawi – which have long been blighted by aflatoxin, a carcinogenic mould responsible for a high percentage of liver cancers in Malawi and southern Africa.
Twin is a responsive organisation, seeking out partners most in need of practical assistance and identifying key areas to develop. In Latin America, Twin is working with partners to help them understand and manage the risks of the volatile coffee market and also, in Peru, supporting them to engage with governments on a local and regional level. Twin has identified gender justice and the need to adapt for climate change as key issues for its future work.
On a recent trip to the Rwenzori region in south west Uganda, I saw firsthand the difficulties smallholders are facing in both these areas, particularly climate change. Changing weather patterns, longer droughts and later rains are affecting the yields and livelihoods of coffee farmers in that area and indeed across the developing world.
Twin is now working closely with its producer partners to identify ways it can support them to adapt their practices and build resilience to climate change. A pilot project has already been launched in Uganda (http://www.twin.org.uk/projects/climate-change-adaptation-mount-elgon-uganda) and more are to follow. While in Nicaragua, Twin has just commenced a bold new project which aims to benefit 10,000-plus households, working with smallholder coffee farmers, to help them to gain the skills and knowledge they need to adapt to climate threats and also to provide training in price risk management, which is vital for protecting smallholder incomes in a changeable market. (http://www.twin.org.uk/news/twin-wins-funding-ambitious-new-project-nicaragua)
Other new Twin initiatives include creating an innovative coffee marketing collective in East Africa to help producer organisations work together to get the best price for their speciality coffees on the international market. (http://www.twin.org.uk/projects/joint-marketing-and-business-services-coffee-producers-africa)
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