Fair Trade Rooibos Tea: Connecting South African Producers and American Consumer Markets

Author: 
Laura T. Raynolds and Siphelo U. Ngcwangu
Publication Date: 
2009
Summary: 
This article analyzes the recent growth and configuration of Fair Trade networks connecting South African Rooibos tea producers with American consumer markets.
Abstract: 
As we demonstrate, Fair Trade’s growth in the Rooibos sector engages key issues of black empowerment, land reform, and sustainable development in post-Apartheid South Africa. Fair Trade networks provide small-scale black Rooibos producers with critical markets. Most significantly, the Wupperthal and Heiveld cooperatives have upgraded into processing and packaging and their jointly owned Fairpackers facility now exports shelf-ready Rooibos tea. Analyzing the nature of US Fair Trade Rooibos buyers and their South African sourcing arrangements, we identify key variations in Fair Trade commitment and engagement between mission-driven and market-driven distributors. While mission-driven buyers engage small-scale Rooibos cooperatives in multifaceted partnership networks, market-driven buyers pursue conventional sourcing strategies favoring purchases from large plantations and exporters. We conclude that tensions between a radical and commercial orientation toward Fair Trade in Rooibos tea networks in many ways mirror those in the broader movement.