“Beyond fair trade” – How a Swiss company is changing global trade

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“Beyond Fairtrade”How a Swiss company is changing global trade

Income sharing for farmers, guaranteed purchases and in-season food delivery: Gebana is committed and takes risks in favor of fair trade. You can buy their products without a bad conscience.

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Adrian Wiedmer, director of trading Gebana for 20 years, remains confident despite risky investments.

Jan Graber

Thanks to Gebana's help, Burkina Faso has developed its own mango industry with small businesses and cooperatives.

Thanks to Gebana’s help, Burkina Faso has developed its own mango industry with small businesses and cooperatives.

gebana

Cashew nuts, also native to Burkina Faso, are crushed and peeled by hand in a laborious process.

Cashew nuts, also native to Burkina Faso, are crushed and peeled by hand in a laborious process.

gebana

A tanned face, piercing blue eyes, a frank and friendly look, Adrian Wiedmer exudes the confidence of someone who is used to facing difficult situations. And for good reason. He is the managing director of Gebana, an international company based in Zurich, which for more than 20 years has turned the world trade in agricultural products upside down by imposing fair remuneration.

For this, the company also goes where there are wars and crises, where the risk of failure is high. “We change the rules” is the motto of Gebana, which has branches in the Netherlands and in countries in Africa and South America.

This company markets and markets food products from Burkina Faso, Togo, Tunisia, Brazil and European countries. The objective: a fair remuneration of local producers with a direct share of revenue. “In addition to fair purchase prices, producers receive 10% of the final sale price in exchange,” explains Adrian Wiedmer.

high risks

However, Gebana’s history is one of highs and lows: a succession of near-bankruptcies, bailouts, gains and losses, high risks but, above all, a fierce will to persevere, even in difficult times. “We stay on the ground, in areas of risk and war, even when the going gets tough,” says Adrian Wiedmer. That’s what makes Gebana unique.

Only with economic stability is social stability possible, he says. Local subsidiaries are in direct contact with farmers and, in addition to trade, ensure the processing of products on site, for example, investing in the construction of factories.

“A real mango and cashew nut industry has developed in Burkina Faso,” says Adrian Wiedmer. Gebana creates companies, but allows them to evolve independently, once they are autonomous and want to. Adrian Wiedmer called this business principle “Beyond Fair Trade”.

Consistent buyers are paramount

On the other side are consumers. When ordering – often in advance – products in online store, guarantee their sale. Most of them are sold in large quantities (for example, 13 kilos of oranges from Greek farmer Olga Aggelena or a kilo of mango slices from Burkina Faso). On the other hand, these commodities are only delivered when they are ripe for harvest. Producers can thus count on buyers in the high season.

Thanks to crowdfunding projects, clients can also become venture capitalists: the money is used to launch new projects in sometimes troubled regions – projects that can therefore fail.

Gebana’s real impact on trade can be demonstrated by the requests it receives, such as from the banana trader Chiquita, to promote its own sustainability. “Above all, Gebana wants to send a strong signal”, says Adrian Wiedmer, who concludes: “We are always on the side of the poor”.

In the beginning it was the banana

the origins of Gebana dates back to the 1980s, when a group of women became involved in “fair trade bananas” (Gerechter Bananehandel in German, hence the name Gebana). In 1998, the limited company Gebana SA was founded. It emphasizes sustainable supply chains and close contact between consumers and producers. In 2003, an online store was launched; products are pre-ordered and delivered after harvest. Gebana has a network of 75,000 active customers (including around 3,000 investors) and 150 wholesalers.

The company has more than 10,000 farmers in Africa, South America and Europe. Recently, Gebana has also started to connect Swiss farmers and local consumers. The company employs 900 people worldwide and has an annual turnover of approximately 60 million francs.

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