A report on Fairtrade wine published this month by The Co-operative Food couldn’t have come out at a better time. Sales of Fairtrade wine have this year hit an all-time high, reaching almost 30 m bottles a year globally. Last year, in the UK alone, a record 22.2m litres were sold (worth £27.5m), generating vital impacts for grape growing communities across Africa, and Latin and Central America.
La Riojana, a co-operative of small-scale grape farmers in northwest Argentina, has over the years become the world’s largest producer of Fairtrade-certified wines and is an example of how Fairtrade can transform the lives of disadvantaged communities.
The area is agriculturally rich but there are many remote, rural communities with basic needs such as clean drinking water and decent education and healthcare.
The Co-operative Food has worked closely with La Riojana for many years to address these needs and provide an improved standard of living, all made possible through proceeds from the sales of their Fairtrade Argentina wine range.
We chat to Julio Casiva, a wine grower for La Riojana, about what life is like for him and the community, and what it means to be part of Fairtrade.
How long have you been growing grapes?
I became a member of the La Riojana co-operative in 1981 and have been growing grapes for them since then.
Has the tradition of growing grapes been passed on through your family, and if so, for how long?
Indeed, growing grapes has provided a vital source of income for my family. My father had been a grape producer all of his life and a member of La Riojana till he passed away. It was him that taught me all the secrets behind growing grapes so that I could continue this beautiful tradition.
Please describe briefly your typical day.
I get up early in the morning and have breakfast with my wife. I then go to the vineyards to check everything is fine. I own just over five hectares of vineyards in Tilimuqui where I grow Torrontés Riojano and Cereza grape varieties.
I also work at the Provincial Water Institute IPALAR where I look after the smooth distribution of water for irrigation purpose in the local area Los Sarmientos. My work schedule varies and is dependent on the water shift which has to be controlled for each property.
What life is like for a small-scale producer in the community?
Life in Tilimuqui is very calm. It’s a place where you can live in peace, serenity and be at one with nature. Competition is one of the main challenges we will be facing in the years to come and so we strive to offer the best produce possible.
How things have changed for you personally since La Riojana became Fairtrade-certified in 2006?
Fairtrade has been very positive for both me and the community – it has provided us with essential infrastructure, such as a drinking water facility and a secondary school for local children.
Before Fairtrade, we did not have running water in the village and the system we had would sometimes break, which meant that we had to wait several weeks before it was repaired.
The new school has transformed the life of the community; it has provided both education for children and employment to many local people. My son, for instance, struggled to find a job for a while but shortly after the school was opened he secured a position of an administrative assistant. These developments have definitely boosted morale in the community.
Personally, I have benefitted from Fairtrade-funded fertilisers, which I’ve received from La Riojana for my vineyards. This has allowed me to increase and improve my own production.
What are your hopes for the future?
I want to continue being a producer. I would also like for my son to be able to continue the family tradition and expand the farm whilst maintaining the co-operative spirit that I have taught him about. I also hope that the producers will keep benefiting from Fairtrade.
What message would you like to send to people who drink La Riojana wine in the UK?
I’m very happy that people in the UK choose to buy Fairtrade wine. Every purchase of Fairtrade wine from La Riojana means that the small producers from Tilimuqui and the surrounding areas are able to improve their quality of life and help their children have a better future, with the Fairtrade Premium being a vital lifeline for the community.