Profile of Denise Sutherland Fairtrade farmer

October 27, 2009


Name: Denise Sutherland

Member of Langley Park Fairtrade Group on St Vincent and representative of Windward Islands Farmers Association.

Age: 37 years

Family: 1 boy, 11 years old

How many relatives living at home?

Parents, the son and a former worker

Where do you live:

Commercial Street Georgetown, wall house on the main road with 4 rooms

What do you grow/produce? 
Bananas, Fruit trees, planning to plant peanuts and/or hot pepper

Who do you sell it to?

Bananas are sold to St. Vincent Banana Grower Association (SVBGA), Fair Trade and all other bananas, fruits are for own consumption, peanuts would be sold to vendors, hot pepper to the St. Vincent marketing Corporation

How long have you been doing this?

About 10 years

How much land do you have?

4.25 acres in total (1.7 hectares), the land is divided into 3 different plots, which are about 2 miles apart from each other.  These are about 3 miles from my home so I have to walk or hitch a ride

Name of cooperative?

WINFA (registered producer group); Langley Park Fair Trade Group (my local Fair Trade Group)

How many members does the cooperative have?

About 1000 registered Fair Trade farmers in the Windward Islands, the Langley Park Fair Trade group has 20 members

What is the relationship with outside traders?

All bananas in St. Vincent are shipped through the St. Vincent Banana Grower Association (SVBGA), conventional and Fair Trade. We have a good relationship to the SVBGA.

What activities are you involved in for the cooperative?

I am Secretary of the Langley Park Fair Trade group

How long have you been involved in Fair trade?

I am involved in Fair Trade since 1999. We started shipments of Fair Trade bananas to the UK in July 2000.

How has this changed things for you, your family and your community?

I am able to get a better price for my bananas and therefore I was able to improve my living. It is easier now to pay bills, buy food and the necessary schoolbooks and uniforms for my son.  Fair Trade made me and the other farmers in Fair Trade more aware of environmental issues. We are helping to keep the environment clean and protect it.

With the social premium we have been able to upgrade our LESCO centre. LESCO is the Langley Park Education, Sports and Culture Organization. We are using the LESCO Community centre for our meetings. LESCO started to build a kitchen to offer cooking classes for young people in the area. Fair Trade has made it possible to finish the kitchen and purchase necessary utensils with money from the social premium. The first class finished their course and graduated last year.  We also were able to help the Langley Park Government School to make it easier to have exams processed by buying a photocopier.

Have you had bad experiences in the past?

As Fair Trade farmers we are not allowed to used any herbicides in our field. We have one weed in St. Vincent which is very hard to control, it is called water grass. This grass attracts nematodes. The water grass took over my field last year. In the consequence I had a high infestation of nematodes and toppling of my bananas. Because of our problems the Fair Trade Labelling Organization allows us currently to use a limited amount of herbicides.

Hurricanes are big a problem for us, one can loose all bananas and yet you still have to pay the bills.

What are your wishes for the future?

My wishes for us is to be able to have a bigger Fair Trade market, so that all of our members can sell all bananas produced as Fair Trade bananas.

What would you like for your children in the future?

A guaranteed and stable income, where I am sure that all my fruits are sold to Fair Trade and therefore I can provide for the education for my son and I be able to send him to university or college.

What is your weekly/monthly/annual income?

Weekly: 547.80 EC$ for an average of 30 boxes Fair Trade bananas (205 US$) Exchange rate 1 US$=2.67 EC$.  The rest of my bananas (about 20-30 boxes) are sold as non-fair Trade bananas every week.

What is the income for other farmers not selling to Fairtrade, for comparison?

Other farmers get at least 2 EC$ less for one box of 18 kg bananas.

What is the price of basic staples, like food, rent, clothing?

My weekly costs for food, light, phone, clothing etc are about 270.00 EC$, in addition I have to pay 1500.00 EC$ towards the loan for our house every month.  So my total costs per month are 2580 EC$.

Do your children go to school?  What is the school like? Do you have to pay school fees or buy uniforms, books, pens and paper?

My son goes to a government runed school; the Georgetown Government School. There are no school fees, however I need to buy the school uniform, schoolbooks and all stationary.

Can you afford this?

It is a tight squeeze, but sometimes I can make it.

Can you afford medical care for family members when necessary?

No, not at all times

Has selling to Fairtrade helped with any of these?

Fair Trade do not help directly with medical bills, we don’t have any system in place for this. But the fact that we obtain a higher price for the Fair Trade bananas helps a lot to meet our needs.

What are the challenges of selling to the Fairtrade market?

Fair Trade Criteria is a challenge to meet at all times, especially with the problem of water grass. It is also a challenge joggling with the amount of bananas that could be sold as Fair Trade and the balance that has to be sold to the conventional market. We are trying to sell as much as possible as Fair Trade. If we could have a greater demand for all our bananas it would help us.

What would you like to say to consumers in the UK in Fairtrade Fortnight?

Please purchase our Fair Trade bananas. It is hard to produce a Fair Trade bananas. It takes more time because we use less chemicals and have more manual work in the field. I would like to see an increased demand.

It is hard when you meet all criteria only to be told that the quota has been met already and you cannot sell your bananas to Fair Trade.