A FAIRTRADE coffee farmer who visited Penarth during Fairtrade Fortnight, has spoken of the plight of rural communities during lockdown in Uganda.

Three months ago, Jenipher Wetaka Sambazi, a Fairtrade coffee farmer from the Mt Elgon region in Uganda, was sharing her experiences of the benefit of Fairtrade in Penarth’s Tabernacle Baptist Church.

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Now she and her family, like communities around the world, are under lockdown.

In March, campaigners, businesses, supporters, and students from around Wales heard Jenipher’s story, face to face.

Now she is unable to travel or even meet with her neighbours.

This means the coffee picked at the end of the last harvest remains on the mountain and Jenipher and her fellow farmers are prohibited from travelling to gather it for processing under the current lockdown rules.

There are currently several hundred known cases of covid-19 in Uganda, but none in the Mount Elgon region and no fatalities in Uganda as yet.

Farmers want to keep it this way, but lockdown is causing other concerns such as limiting access to food and healthcare.

This is the time of year when there is the least amount of food available, and the closing of markets and freedom to travel for farmers to source food and water means that times are exceptionally hard.

Jenipher as vice-chairwoman of a Fairtrade coffee cooperative, is responsible for many who rely on the cooperative for work.

The expert hand-sorters who are seasonal workers and rely on this part of the coffee chain to feed their family at this time, have no coffee to sort.

While they may have some spare eggs, vegetables or matoke to trade, the threat of soldiers prohibiting them from doing so is too much for them.

Farmer co-operatives, an essential element of Fairtrade, enable and encourage communities to work together.

Fairtrade also requires an extra amount of money, the Fairtrade premium, to be paid to producers.

Fairtrade farmers like Jenipher are struggling, but they have the benefits of a strong local community as well as the backup of the Fairtrade premium.

Fairtrade International have announced a 3.1m euro Fairtrade Producer Relief fund targeting the immediate needs and Resilience Fund to help producers rebuild their businesses after Covid-19.

Jenipher Wettaka Sambazi said: “Life is hard.

“The markets are shut so there is nowhere to sell or earn money, or to buy food and basic essentials.

“Local health centres have been shut to reduce the chance of spreading the virus, but since all transport is banned, those who need operations, treatment or antenatal care need to walk 18 km to the nearest hospital.

“Two women and their unborn babies have died on the way."

Roger Casey, who attends Tabernacle Baptist Church said: “It was wonderful to meet Jenipher and hear her story.

“We get through a lot of coffee in our office and meeting a real coffee farmer from Uganda makes you think about the real people and real lives behind that Fairtrade logo.”

Vale MS Jane Hutt said: “Meeting Jenipher during her visit to Wales earlier this year was inspiring.

“The increasing difficulties facing rural farming communities because of the pandemic has shown how important Fairtrade cooperatives continue to be and I am glad that leaders like Jenipher continue to promote the benefits of Fairtrade and to support communities.”

National co-ordinator of Fair Trade Wales, Aileen Burmeister added: “Fair Trade producers are being impacted by covid-19 restrictions.

“Global stock markets are falling, meaning that farmers and workers are receiving far less for their produce.

"It is in these times that we can really see how important the Fairtrade minimum price is.”