Water and Fairtrade

The 22nd of March this year was World Water Day, an annual United Nations Observance focusing on the importance of freshwater. World Water Day celebrates water and raises awareness of the 2.2 billion people living without access to safe water. It is about taking action to tackle the global water crisis. In households, schools and workplaces, water can mean health, hygiene, dignity and productivity. In cultural, religious and spiritual places, water can mean a connection with creation, community and oneself. In natural spaces, water can mean peace, harmony and preservation. Today, water is under extreme threat from a growing population, increasing demands of agriculture and industry, and the worsening impacts of climate change.

Economic development and a growing global population means agriculture and industry are getting thirstier and water-intensive energy generation is rising to meet demand. Climate change is making water more erratic and contributing to pollution. As societies balance the demands on water resources, many people’s interests are not being taken into account. How we value water determines how water is managed and shared. The value of water is about much more than its price – water has enormous and complex value for our households, culture, health, education, economics and the integrity of our natural environment. If we overlook any of these values, we risk mismanaging this finite, irreplaceable resource.

This is where Fairtrade comes in. Water management is built into the Fairtrade Standards – producer organisations must ensure responsible use of water on their farms as well as protecting local water sources. In West Africa, research has shown that Fairtrade cotton producers have better access to training on water management than non-Fairtrade producers. Some groups also invest the Premium to improve farming practices, such as filtering water runoff or on-farm drip irrigation. Preserving water through irrigation can also support farmers to cope with the effects of climate change as rainfall becomes more unpredictable.

In Kenya, tea farmer Teresa Kurgat is benefitting from a water tank funded using the Fairtrade Premium from Sireet OEP tea co-operative. The tap for the tank happens to be in her garden – which, according to an article by the Fairtrade Foundation, has brought many positive changes for her and her community:

  • Teresa used to travel for hours to a local river to collect water – this task often falls to women and girls in many communities, which proves a barrier to them participating in farming organisations or taking up leadership positions. But improving access to water reduces the time women spend on unpaid work, so they can focus on paid work, education and training or being involved in their communities.
  • Teresa now has time to focus on her business running a local shop, and earning an additional income for her family. “The tank has helped me so much, most of my time I spend in the kiosk – not going to fetch water.”
  • Her cow now is producing more milk since having easy access to water.
  • She is able to grow vegetables during the dry summer. “I’m also saving money from the kitchen garden and from the dairy”, she added.
  • Teresa also said that she feels healthier since the tank – she used to get headaches from carrying the water. “I used to get so tired … by evening I’m so tired I cannot do a lot of work in the farm.”
  • A reduction of waterborne diseases, such as cholera and typhoid, in the community. Typhoid treatment typically costs 3,000 Kenyan Shillings (roughly £20), so families are now saving this money to put towards other needs.
  • The local school benefits from the tank which has improved hand washing and toilet facilities. Aside from the health benefits, the school improvement also increases attendance.

So if you’re looking for more reasons to #choosefairtrade – here is one more of many!

Thanks to the World Water Day and Fairtrade Foundation websites for the inspiration behind and information for this article.