Stellenrust – an Olympic legacy

Visitors to the 2012 London Olympic Games drank thousands of small bottles of South African Fairtrade wine. In doing so, whether they were aware of it or not, they made a tangible impact on the lives of a community of farm workers many thousands of kilometres away.

 The delicious Olympic Rosé and Chenin Blanc came from Stellenrust, one of South Africa’s largest family-owned wine farms. Located in the rolling foothills of the Helderberg between Stellenbosch and Somerset West, Stellenrust gained its Fairtrade accreditation in 2010, which means that for every bottle of Fairtrade wine sold, about 50 cents go to the farm’s 70-odd workers.

This so-called Fairtrade Development Premium is democratically administered by all of the farm’s workers collectively and it can only be used for community upliftment and development projects. Every month, the workers meet to discuss what their premium money should be used for and every three years, they elect five people onto an administrative premium committee. A two-thirds majority is required for a project to be funded using premium money. All financial transactions are carefully recorded and all of the paperwork is audited annually.

 Fairtrade Development Premium use at Stellenrust

The premium we earned from the sale of our wines at the Olympics went towards completing one of our latest projects, a food kitchen,” says the committee’s chairperson Bonnie Heneke. “Making sure that our kids eat a healthy and nutritious diet is quite a challenge, since their parents spend a lot of time at work on the farm,” he explains. “At the new kitchen, they can have breakfast, make lunch boxes for school and come for something to eat afterwards. It will make a great difference to our lives and theirs.”

According to Mina Sass, another premium committee member, “you can really see the difference Fairtrade has made here. Before Fairtrade, things weren’t going all that well, but now we can definitely see a number of benefits: we pay the school fees of our children using premium money and at the beginning of the year, we buy stationary and school uniforms.”

 Heneke’s own 19-year-old daughter is a great example of the progress that’s being made at Stellenrust. She’s a second-year student at Boland College in Stellenbosch and the Fairtrade Development Premium is paying her fees.
Other projects supported by the premium are a community vegetable garden, for which a patch of land is currently being prepared, that will allow workers to grow their own fresh food, as well as a planned and approved new classroom where they and their kids will be able to learn how to use computers. Possible future projects include a crèche for pre-school children and an old-age home for retired members of the Stellenrust community.


Beyond the premium

Heneke and Sass point out that Fairtrade training courses have made them much more aware of their rights as workers. Working hours and communication with management have improved greatly and Fairtrade labour standards ensure that health and safety requirements are met.

Fairtrade has changed the lives of the people on this farm – I can assure you!” exclaims Heneke. “I’m proud to say that I now know how many sick and annual leave days I have every year. Before Fairtrade, the farmers could decide how much to pay their workers. Today, we know that we are entitled to a minimum salary and that we are being paid wages above that minimum.”

Stellenrust also has an exciting equity scheme in which workers own a 51% share in 100 hectares of the farm. Heneke, Sass and their colleagues are very proud of this project: “it’s our future investment in the land”. But since all of the profits until now have been ploughed back into paying off the bond used to pay for their share in the property, there haven’t been any concrete returns for them yet. By contrast, the benefits of Fairtrade – through labour standards and premium payments – have been much more immediate and ongoing.

 

Fairtrade doesn’t only have a beneficial impact on the lives of farm workers and their communities; it has an important environmental aspect, too. Fairtrade’s environmental standards require sustainable farming practices with an emphasis on protecting and increasing biodiversity, preserving natural water resources and enhancing soil fertility through the composting of all organic waste.

On Fairtrade accredited farms, carbon offsetting according to progressive standards is encouraged to counter greenhouse gas emissions, while no genetically-modified crops or organisms are allowed. There are also strict regulations on the use of pesticides and the safe handling and disposal of hazardous wastes.


Sustainability and quality
Stellenrust is a perfect example of how wine farms can improve the lives of their workers and help in the development of local communities without compromising on productivity or quality.
By allowing us to provide for ourselves, our families and our community,” says Heneke, “Fairtrade has given us the ability to lead a decent life.” Clearly, at Stellenrust, Fairtrade is a win-win proposition with many real benefits for the owners, the farm workers, the environment and ultimately for consumers, too.

 

The Stellenrust wines are available from SA Wines Online.

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