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The Tea Tree oil in our popular tea tree liquid and bar soaps comes from a Fair Trade and organic project with smallholder farmers in the foothills of Mount Kenya, north of Nairobi and directly on the equator.
Because of the low rainfall, the major natural vegetation here is dry grassland. Small-scale livestock farming dominates, and those who have access to water grow subsistence and cash crops like maize, sugar peas, cabbage and potatoes on their 1-10 acre plots under single-family ownership. Demand and prices paid for cash crops are volatile, and so farmers are often stuck with perishable produce without an outlet after the harvest.
Founded in 2005 by our UK partner Earthoil, the project first recruited smallholders willing to try out a crop new to the area and convert to organic practices. By now, over 500 farmers are members of the project and have organized in the Kenya Organic Oil Farmer’s Association (KOOFA). Earthoil buys the twigs and leaves of the tea trees and steam-distills them at its facility in Nanyuki where workers enjoy fair and safe working conditions not commonly found in the area.
Since there is no established market price for this new crop, farmers receive a fair cost-based price that guarantees a profit. In addition, they receive a 10% organic premium. Buyers, including Dr. Bronner’s, also pay a 10% Fair Trade premium into a Fair Trade Fund, and farmer representatives democratically decide how the funds should be allocated to benefit the whole community.
While annual Fair Trade premium revenues are still modest, the Fair Trade Committee has decided to sponsor a limited number of children from very poor families through school. The fund has paid for all four years of secondary education for seven children. Now the group is shopping for a one-acre parcel of land to build a social hall for local community use that will house a small library and computers connected to the Internet. The hall will also be rented out to generate some revenue for the group’s activities.