Malawi sugarcane farmer visits Leatherhead for Fairtrade Fortnight

FROM rural Africa to the stunning scenery of Mole Valley, sugar cane farmer Henry Matenda has had an experience he will treasure forever.

Walking through the streets of Leatherhead, the greenery that greeted Mr Matenda formed quite a contrast to the dry fields of Malawi in south east Africa.

His visit to Mole Valley was part of Fairtrade Fortnight in the town and was also his first trip away from his homeland.

Speaking to the Advertiser before boarding his plane home, he said: “It’s very different here.

“Men will cook and clean. In Malawi, it is usual for women to cook and clean the house and all the clothes. I’ve told my wife that when I get back I’m going to do more to help her.

“She’s very pleased.”

Mr Matenda made the journey to Leatherhead, which became a Fair Trade town in 2009, with the aim of spreading the word about the Fairtrade movement.

He spoke to members of the B Free Youth Cafe in Kingston Road, which serves Fair Trade coffee, tea and sugar, on Friday last week.

“It’s important for me to let people in the UK know how the sugar industry works in our country, and the effect that Fairtrade has had for our farmers,” he said.

Back home, he farms a small holding of two-and-a-half hectares – the size of three football pitches – in the south of Malawi.

The farmers on the land became Fairtrade certified in 2004, after forming a cooperative in 1996, when they installed an irrigation system to pump water from the nearest river.

Before this time, all water had to be carried by hand, and it was difficult for them to make a living from the dry land.

For the six months of the sugar harvest, Mr Matenda works twelve-hour shifts at the sugar cane factory, while his wife Agnes takes over the farm, as well as looking after their two children, aged one and six.

“I have been very impressed with the effort and time that people have put in here for Fairtrade because for us it is such a big thing,” said Mr Matenda.

He added: “I have really enjoyed my time here. Everyone has been very friendly to me.”

As well as ensuring a fair price for their sugar cane, his cooperative receive a Fairtrade premium to spend on benefits for their community.

So far they have been able to build brick houses to replace the old mud and thatched huts, construct their own primary school, and provide computers and printers to the secondary schools.

“I really hope people in the UK will keep buying Fairtrade products,” added Matenda. “I want everyone to know how much it means to us.”

Mr Matenda spent a total of three weeks in the country and as well as taking in the delights of Mole Valley, he also visited St Paul’s Cathedral, the Emirates Stadium – the home of Arsenal football club – and Brighton Pier.

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