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

Laura T. Raynolds and Siphelo U. Ngcwangu
Publication Date: 
This article analyzes the recent growth and configuration of Fair Trade networks connecting South African Rooibos tea producers with American consumer markets.
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.