Volta River Estates Ltd
Volta River Estates Ltd (VREL) was set up in 1988 as a joint-venture between Ghana and The Netherlands and was Ghana’s first commercial banana export operation. In 2012 it produced 4,400 tonnes of bananas, 67% of which were certified organic.
VREL is located in Ghana’s Eastern region in the Akwamu area. There are four banana-growing sections to the estate that covers 250 hectares and employs 441 people. More than 95% of the workforce have permanent contracts and receive a wage 40% higher than the Ghanian government minimum wage. They are also looking to more than double the workforce to 1,000 people in the coming years.
Things haven’t always gone so well for VREL. Early in their existence they experienced a major setback when a fungal disease affecting the leaves of the banana plants and wiped out their first crop. Although they have had continual success in the years after, it was only in 2006 that VREL had regained access to sell to European markets.
VREL’s Partnership with Fairtrade
Compared to many other banana farms, VREL receives significantly higher prices for bananas compared to many other banana farms. They are receiving $12.41 for a box of organic bananas and $10.87 for a box of Faritrade conventional bananas compared to $10.70 and $6.70, respectively, for non-Fairtrade bananas. Most of these bananas are sold in Marks and Spencers and Sainsburys in the UK.
The Fairtrade premium that VREL receives with each box of bananas has gone towards a number of education, health, social and economic projects- all with the goal of improving workers lives and those living in local communities. Below are examples of the projects that have been funded with the help of the Fairtrade premium:
- The building of new school blocks has allowed lessons to be taught inside and be protected from the elements. Computer labs are now also available to students
- Scholarships to secondary school and university are being made available for 20 students that are children of workers
- A health insurance scheme is available to the spouse and children of VREL workers to allow them to receive free treatment
- Three communities now have the ability to store clean water
- Specially treated nets have been made available to workers to help protect against malaria
- Part of the premium is being put towards a pension fund for its workers
- A bus has been purchased that allows community residents to take trips out of VREL
- The premium is also being used to help fund skills training for women to be able to start their own businesses and increase their incomes
- Male workers who also have jobs as taxi drivers to increase their employment opportunities- so far, 15 have been offered vocational driving courses
What can you do to help?
They might be marginally more expensive, but buying Fairtrade bananas can have incredible impacts on the communities that grow and produce the bananas we consume. So, next time you’re shopping in Sainsburys or Marks and Spencer, look out for Fairtrade bananas grown on the Volta River Estates Ltd!