Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The SPFTC production plant

In a small sleepy village outside of Cebu lies the heart of SPFTC’s Fair Trade production of their products, which include dried mangoes, mango balls, dried manangy, dried spices, tamerind, and virgin coconut oil. Theirs is an environmentally sound development consisting of a production area, an office, workshops, delivery vehicles all alongside allotments, plants and trees. We were shown around their site, which was built 16 years ago on leased land. The site gradually grew over the years, designed to be as environmentally friendly as possible. This was evident form the moment we drove through the entrance of the plant; pass gates and fences made from recycled plastic bottles. A great idea and a cleaver solution to the huge problem of plastic recycling and garbage disposal.

Rolo, the manager and overseer of the production side of SPFTC’s products showed us around. He’s sense of humour and approachable manor, made the tour really interesting. Rolo knew every statistic, all the ins and outs and had insightful answers for our every question. We are very grateful for his patience with us and for letting us pick his brain on the production processes.

The main body of the site is their production area that is made from three cargo containers. We were told that along with using a cheap recyclable structure, it was also chosen as an easy means of moving if they had to due to not owning the land their site is on.  

The SPFTC office was also made from a cargo container, which had a bit of work done to it. With wooden floors, an out door seating area and two large office spaces for admin. 

The grounds consisted of two mango trees, banana trees, managy trees and tamarind. Only the tamarind was grown for the processing process. The other produce came in from Fair Trade suppliers from around Cebu for production. The plants on sight were mainly for experimental processes only.

When we were there, SPFTC were experimenting with making mango balls from dried mangoes as an alternative healthy snack. And instead of buying in machines, Rolo and his team of engineers were coming up with their own inventions in production machines. 

Mango ball machine in the making
We were shown through the steps of process when making dried mangos, which is the same for other dried fruits, but with different timings in the process for depending on the water content of the fruit. We had to wear funny protective gear so not to contaminate the sanitised production areas. As no mangoes were being processed at the time, we weren’t actually able to see much production, but the picture give a good idea of the steps.

Rolo (left), shows us the production stages for dried mango in a sanitised container
1. Fist we were shown the area in which the mangoes are cleaned, peeled and sliced. Each mango had two large slices and four small slices. They had designed special peelers specifically for the mangoes so the inside fruit isn’t damaged and little flesh is removed with the skin. 

SPFTC's own design for a mango peeler
When we were there, a batch of malangy had come in for a similar process, they were placed in the cleaning up room to be ready to be processed. 

Malangy, ready to be processed
2. Then the mangoes are placed in large bowls filled with a syrup which then goes into an osmosis tank. This helps remove with the osmosis process, removing the water from the fruit. As mangoes are 80% water, the process of removing the water takes longer then a lot of other fruit. The mangoes are left in syrup for a day.    

3. After being removed from the syrup, the mangoes have lost 15% of their water. They are then blanched in hot water to remove excess syrup.

4.  They are then placed on racks that go into the dehydration ovens. This gives the mangoes a steady warm heat and an air flow allowing the mangoes to dry fully and lose all their water so they are just fruit. SPFTC has two dehydrating ovens that are heated using a water system that heats up from burning natural waste from coconuts, mango skins, and other waste from the plant. This process takes a day also.

Dehydration ovens
      5.After the dried mango comes out of the dehydrator it has lost all water and is pure fruit. They are left to sit in dark room, then packaged and labelled on site. 

    6. From 1000kg of mangoes the outcome is 150kg of dried mangoes. The mango stone is used in making mango puree. The stone is put through a specially design machine which removes as much pulp as possible. The pulp is then used to make mango juice. The syrup used in the osmosis process is also used in their juices. 

7. Each batch goes through quality control. A sample from each batch is kept if any future problems were to occur. 

Mangoes ready for export
After our tour, we were taken to the meeting room for refreshments and snacks. Her we discovered the full extent of the scale of work SPFTC did. To meet demands from the West and Japan, they had to make changes in their machines, in their production methods, in their packaging and labelling. This was interesting to hear. The changes took a long time, but there were creative solutions around this. For example, the dehydrators were run on a reverse fridge system. This was extremely bad for energy consumption, but with help and guidance, they came up with a water system that was heated using waste from the site.

Cleaver solutions like this and the inventions of machines for the production process not only makes me feel like SPFTC are advanced compare to larger producers in the Cebu area, but that they are very good at adapting to a greener, more sustainable way of manufacturing.

We had a great time, at the production plant. I almost have a problem calling it a “production plant”, because it didn't feel like that at all. It felt more like a place where good ideas sprang and greener possibilities were seen. It felt homely, lush with vegetation, clean, welcoming, and most of all a good example for production of similar products around the world.   

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

“Nearly Organic!” Mango Farmers, GBP Pusto - Carcar

Joel (right) and the Mango Farmers

Two hours car journey west of Cebu City, and 45 minuets by foot, high up in the Carcar mountains (and I mean really high up in the mountains), are 16 mango trees and 6 enthusiastic mango farmers. The journey by foot we were told is not too bad, you can wear flip-flops and do it easily. Well as we found out that was a huge exaggeration.  No motorised vehicles could go up after a certain point as the path get rockier and steeper, and even by foot, it was very dangerous as we carried our picnic in one hand and tried to balance with the other. I was surprised when we were told the mango farmers go down the same rout with 50kg of mangoes on their heads! 

View from the top, with the sea, which can just be seen form behind the mountains
Once we got to the top, we understood the reason for the location. On a hill, direct sunlight, cool breeze from the sea, and seclusion. We had a picnic with the farmers and then took a brief moment to absorb our surroundings.

Our epic picnic, with Yam, Hanging rice, Chicken,
Fish cakes, peanut butter  sandwiches and fresh coconuts
The six farmers of GBP came together with the help of Joel, from Safi and The Cebu Fair Trade Network, in an attempt to see whether the once heavily sprayed Mango trees can return to being 100% organic. Joel warned the farmers the road would be hard and there would be loses to start with, but if successful, the farmers would stand as an example to many other Mango farmers in Cebu. The farmers were brave and took the risk on their 16 medium sized mango trees.

As the trees had been sprayed heavily for 40-50 ears, with each year the percentage dose of chemicals increasing, the trees were in a bad state. Mango trees should only harvest once a year, but these trees were being harvested at least three times a year. There were 16 course of spaying done in each harvest. Meaning the tree was sprayed with chemicals 48 times in one year. There was a spray to increase the flowering of the tree, a spray for the insects (which also killed the good insects), a spray for the weeds and a spray for the mangoes. Sometimes the farmers never read the labels with instruction of dosage ratio, and often over dosed the tree. Sometimes the chemical company would put ground up insects in the spray, resulting in more tree pests, thus the farmer having to buy more pesticide spray. This all resulted in the trees and insects being more and more immune to the chemicals, and with the chemicals, not producing any fruit. 

One of the 16 mango trees
So Joel had a big job on his hand, and he needed to come up with a way of weaning the trees of the chemicals. The way he and SAFI suggested the farmers do this, was to still spray the trees, but to reduce the dosage each time, and eventually only harvesting the tree once a year. This meant the trees would still produce mangos, but each year the yield would decline, but as it did the mangoes were making their way to being more organic.

This process began in 2005, and next year they are hoping to have 100% organic mangoes. The trees looked healthy and the farmers even reported less insects. The numbers are estimated to be 3,000 mangoes per tree. This makes 48,000 mangoes in total for the harvest. It was so good to see the farmers were happy to have been taking a risk which they saw as being beneficial. From talking to other Fair Trade organisation I got the impression that some mango farmers still didn't see the benefits of changing when they could sell mangoes in the market, as organic doesn't have any weight in the smaller local markets. The farmers of GBP had good training from SAFI, and with Joel, they see a positive future in which they can produce marketable mangos which will reach a higher price, and have healthy trees which they can pass down to their children.  

Sat under the mango trees
The mangoes will then be sold to SPFTC to be processed into mango products, which get turned into dried mangoes, mango puree, mango jam, and mango juice. These will be exported to Japan, Itally, Germany, England, Hong Kong and Singapore. 

School and Soya for Street Children, K & H – Talamban

I can safely say Ms Kathy from K&H, Talamban is probably one of the most inspiring women I have every had the pleasure of meeting. Being in her presence I felt she had a sense of modesty that I have only ever seen in people who feel they don't need recognition for their work, rather their reward is the positive impact they make. Ms Kathy ran a school every Wednesday and Sunday for the street children of Cebu City. With up to 90 students in her classes, ranging from 4-19, she still managed to teach a wide range of subjects from maths, social science, english, with even personal care and future planning. Before the lessons, the children get to have a shower, they also get given Soya Shakes and healthy snacks made by Ms Kathy herself, and then attend class.

Chocolate Soya Milk for the children
Ms Kathy made a fresh Banana Soya shake for us to try
“The children are taught they are worth more then to beg,” Ms Kathy told us, “they don't sing Christmas carols on the street anymore to earn money.” Part of the education aims at giving the children a sense of self esteem, and teaches them how to get jobs. This is tough as sometime the children come from families where their parents beg as a means of getting by. If this has been happening for generations, it’s hard to uninstall from the children’s minds. Ms Kathy hopes one day she can get the parents in for special training as well.

Talking to Ms Kathy
Another project K&H are also involved in is educating and teaching pregnant girls/women living on the street about motherhood. They are also given soya milk and snacks. I have heard Philippinoes call themselves the baby making country. As contraception is still forbidden due to the heavy presence of the Church, the growing population is a huge problem. Even families living on the streets will have up to 16 children. Ms Kathy helps to educated the women in family planning, giving them advise, and other options in life.

Even though Ms Kathy is busy with two time-consuming projects, she gets time to help local women farmers and supports them by buying their products: soya, chocolate, bananas, mangos, malangay and coconuts. She makes her soya milk from scratch and uses the other produce in the shakes and varies the flavours each week. She also makes coco syrup, coco vinegar and virgin coco oil, which she sells in the market, using the profits to help fund her projects. Her next aim is to have a day nursery for the women farmers, so they can have a safe place to leave their children during the day time when working. 

K&H's produce left to right: 100% chocolate;  soya shakes; bananas; nuts; coco syrup, vinegar and virgin oil 
The problem is the lack of helpers on hand. Ms Kathy does a lot of work herself, and doesn't have any volunteers. This is something I am working on helping her with. Having her work along side local Universities, so students can gain experience, and Ms Kathy can have extra pairs of hands to help her continuing and expanding the great work she does. The one amazing thing I have found is very evident in the Philippines, is the youth’s interest in helping NGO’s and wanting to make a difference to helping their country. Universities are a great place to start for NGOs in the Philippines, as there is so much enthusiasm from willing, bright students.

Southern Partners and Fair Trade Cooperation (SPFTC), Cebu, Philippines

My recent trip to Cebu to visit SPFT and their member producers was a great insight into how a successful Fair Trade Organisation runs in a country where a vast majority are still unaware of Fair Trade. Yes, the concept is still there: better for the environment, better for the producer, better for the consumer, but this is a general and very obvious switch to meet buyer’s needs in the west. The term “Fair Trade” is still a confusion to many Philippinos and Asians. So I was surprised when I met Ms Gigi and her team at SPFTC, and what a tight nit organisation they ran. With many producers who supply the organisation, and many more that are making a switch to be under the SPFTC title. She has defiantly created a little buzz in Cebu, the second biggest city in Cebu.

SPFTC's Fair Trade Shop, Cebu

So what do SPFTC do, and why are they so prominent in a market sector that is on a steadily growing? SPFTC help small producers in the Southern regions of the Philippines in all matters of things. From community development, to trainings, promotion, finding buyers, product development and packaging. The region of the Visayas, the central region of the Philippines is lush, and is perfect for growing almost anything! Cebu and Bohol are two islands protected by larger islands, and so they are effected less by the typhoons. The Visayas main agricultural produce include: coconuts; mangoes; mascavado sugar; bananas and nuts. So as the West showed more interest in buying Fair Trade products, more producers and farmers wanted help in tapping this market. As the benefits were seen, more wanted to get on board. With the standards of Fair Trade being high, and with there being a lot Fair Trade criteria to meet, the change can take a long time. This is where SPFTC come in.

It is claimed the mangoes from Cebu are the best in the world, and because of this, there has been a massive increase in mango farmers in Cebu. Most of these mangoes get processed into dried mangos, mango puree, and mango juice. To meet large demands from the west, the farmers were spraying their trees. This was something that had been happening for the lat 40-50years, and every year the dosage was being increased. The mango trees were and a large percentage still are under great strain. So SPFTC along with SAFI and the Cebu Fair Trade Network, are working with a select few mango farmers in helping them convert their strained trees to becoming 100% organic. If successful, it will make a massive change to many farmers and be hugely beneficial to the environment. But you can read more about this in a later post.

Dried Mango for the Japanese market

So with Ms Gigi’s help and guidance, I was able to go around the Cebu area visiting small producers and farmers, understanding their trade, how Fair Trade has helped them and their community, and any problems they have… which you will see in future posts. I was lucky enough to have met some amazing people in some beautiful locations doing great work.

Helping with an order of 1500 Banana Chips for Japan