Shared Interest Society offers loans to Fairtrade producers

Shared Interest Society offers loans to Fairtrade producers

Shared Interest Society is helping fair trade farmers across the world to access the capital they need to grow their businesses and support their communities.

Through its innovative investment scheme, around 9,000 UK members have invested £32m in share accounts, enabling the society to support hundreds of thousands of smallholders with vital loans and credit services at affordable rates.

The world’s 450m smallholder farmers provide 70% of all food cultivated. Yet despite playing a crucial role in sustaining our global population, many farmers in developing countries live in poverty, unable to access the funds they need to expand their horizons and create a better future for their families. Estimates are that just 2% of their financing needs are currently met.

Shared Interest Society aims to bridge this gap by helping farmers develop their businesses in a sustainable way.

Members invest anything from £100 to 100,000, collectively helping to support lending options that enable Shared Interest’s customers – typically fair trade producer groups or co-operatives – to pay their workers on time and buy raw materials, tools and machinery. The society also makes payments to individual farmers further down the supply chain, helping to ensure they have a regular cash flow.

As producers’ businesses grow and thrive, they are able to create jobs for local people and make contributions (derived from the premium they receive for selling fair trade products) to healthcare, education and agricultural activities.

Meanwhile, through the Shared Interest Foundation, Shared Interest’s business training and support arm, around 300 donors and grant-makers are helping fair trade producers to manage their finances more effectively and secure loans. For example, Ivory Coast cocoa co-operative ECOOKIM used the knowledge and understanding it gained through the training to obtain funding to support 12,000 farmers in remote areas.

In 2014 Shared Interest Society made payments of £48m to 133 buyer groups – the largest amount in the group’s 24-year history – reaching 182,280 farmers, nearly 40% of them women.

It is also widening its impact by streamlining the investment process and expanding the support it delivers to customers. In particular, it is reaching out to producer groups working towards fair trade certification, and helping existing customers to venture into new markets, creating extra income streams.

Identifying new business is fundamental as environmental concerns such as water scarcity and soil degradation loom close for smallholders, many of whom are on the front line of climate change.

For example, Shared Interest helped Chilean honey-producing co-operative Apicoop to become the world’s first producer of Fairtrade blueberries. Elsewhere, it provided a loan to a Maasai handcraft association, Namayiana, helping them to overcome the rising cost of raw materials such as beads, wires and buckles by buying in bulk.

In the words of Catherine Kasao Mututua, Namayiana’s project manager: “Shared Interest investors have been a light, a bridge to change.”

This article was originally published on the Guardian Sustainable Business site.