by Alistair Leadbetter
Swaziland is a very small country, smaller than Wales [the place that everything is compared to in the UK] and with a population of about 1.4m people. Nearly 1m of those people live in rural areas. It’s pretty much surrounded by South Africa but it does have a short border with Mozambique too. There’s a very healthy craft sector here and there’s a strong commitment to fair trade too.
Indeed, there are a large number of Fairtrade businesses operating in Swaziland. Traidcraft is currently working with eight different partners here and we are constantly on the lookout for more! ACRE is working with one of these, Black Mamba, .
Swaziland is a beautiful place but it does face significant challenges. It is therefore an ideal place to direct some of our activities. To give you a sense though of why it is so important to shine a spotlight on some of our work here, I thought I would share some thought-provoking statistics.
80% of the population live in the countryside. The main occupation is agriculture and the agriculture, when it’s not sugar, is often at a subsistence level. 80% of the poor people live in the countryside. It’s an absolute monarchy, one of the six remaining ones in the world. [The others are Brunei, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Vatican City]
Political expression is pretty much banned and there no political parties are allowed. The only option for political expression is through a trade union and these are largely suppressed. In fact, two union leaders have only just been released on bail after a year in prison without trial.
The King has access to all of the income from a fund set up by his father. The fund is worth around $2bn and the income funds the king’s lifestyle, his 13 wives and the various children and kinfolk. This fund also grows because it is able to acquire equity in all of the major critical businesses in Swaziland, including foreign ones. The King and this fund are immune from taxation, civil suits and criminal prosecution.
This lack of political expression and freedom of speech costs the economy too. The US has implemented its African Growth and Opportunity Act to support developing economies. The lack of democracy and the lack of willingness to change from the government has meant that the Americans have withdrawn support and this has damaged the Swazi’s garment industry [which is often Chinese owned and run].
Economic growth is minimal [way below average for sub-Saharan Africa] and the main employer outside of sugar farming is the Civil Service. It’s hard to support a Civil Service when there’s not a lot of tax income but this is often done through income from the Southern Africa Customs Union [SACU]. The civil servants are kept sweet by their good rates of pay and this stops them from plotting against the monarchy. 17% of the government budget is spent on the security services. 70% per cent of the workforce work in agriculture but only 4% of government spending is on the agricultural sector. As you might expect, productivity is low.
Education levels are desperately low. Literacy rates are officially 87% but as many as 70% of women in rural areas are thought to be illiterate. Unemployment is high and is currently running at around 40% [and this figure does not take into account high levels of under-employment in subsistence farming]. Nearly 50% of the population is aged below 15 and so it is predicted that the unemployment will grow in the coming years unless many more opportunities are created.
Poverty is widespread and over half of the population lives on less than $2 per day and 66% of the population are unable to meet basic food needs. This has a clear impact and stunting causes numerous health and work related problems for the population, as well. Roughly 31% of children and over 40% of adults are stunted.
In addition to all of this, Swaziland has been dealing with a horrific HIV / AIDS problem. Over a quarter of the population is HIV positive and over 40% of pregnant women are HIV positive. Life expectancy is low but is slowly climbing. It had dropped as low 38 but has just reached 51. At birth, Swazis have an 80% likelihood of dying before the age of 40 years.
A huge amount of pressure and responsibility rests with women. 20% of households are headed by a woman and another 20% are managed by women because their partner has had to leave the country to find work, most commonly in South Africa. We will see later the burden carried by some of the older women. Visiting Swaziland it is almost as though a whole generation has disappeared, taken by migration and HIV / AIDS.
As you can see, Swaziland faces a lot of challenges but there is hope. There are a large number of Fairtrade businesses operating in Swaziland and ACRE is working with one of these – Black Mamba, a business making a wonderful range of chilli sauces and pestos.
Black Mamba source their ingredients from local farmers. You might have seen some of the pictures on Twitter of a group of grandmothers or “bomake” from a rural village who are growing chillies and basil for the pestos and the sauces. These grandmothers use their earnings so that they can support their families, including bring up their grandchildren in the desperately sad situations where parents have died from HIV / AIDS or have had to go to South Africa to find work.
According to the constitution, women are able to own land but frequently social norms prevent this. Also, over half of the country is designated as “Swazi Nation Land”, land held in trust by the King on behalf of the people.
About 47% of the population is aged below 15. [It’s less than 18% in the UK] and so there are lots of children here. Ten per cent of Swaziland’s households are child headed and of course this brings greater precarity as children are forced to drop out of school to find work. The work they find is low paid and informal. Teenage girls and women are sometimes sexually exploited and again at risk of HIV and so the pattern continues.
Black Mamba are also working with a local NGO who specialise in permaculture, which is an holistic approach incorporating organic farming principles but seeks to work in closely with local ecosystems. The NGO are working with various farmers to help them produce manures and then grow crops for domestic consumption as well as for cash sales.
For instance, since Black Mamba need chillies and basil, we have found that the pests that attack chillies are deterred by basil and vice versa. We are seeing a happy symbiosis and we are able to buy wonderful products.
ACRE is working with Black Mamba. So far we have brought in some expert consultants who have just visited Black Mamba and are supporting them with advice on production, pricing and marketing. A business plan is being developed that we will present to ACRE’s syndicate of investors.
Interested? Check out some of the Black Mamba products that we have in stock.