TESTING IN THE FIELD

Profile:
Volta River Estates (VREL)
Product focus: Bananas
Location: New Akrade, Ghana
Type: Hired labour  – 600 workers
Fairtrade certified since: 1996
Contact: Juliet Arku-Mensah –
admin@voltariver.com

Challenge:
Around 2% of Ghanaians are infected with HIV/AIDS, but the situation in the Eastern region of the country, where VREL is located, is significantly worse. With a percentage of 7.8, Agormanya, the town nearest to the organisation, records one of the highest numbers of HIV victims in Ghana. To address the social and economic consequences of the epidemic, VREL management annually roles out an HIV/AIDS work plan. Like in other African countries, one of the most important challenges the organisation faces is to help producers understand the necessity to get tested.

Solution:
VREL workers are very reluctant to go to the health centres, citing lack of time and money for transport. Many workers are in denial that the epidemic can affect them or their families. As a solution VREL decided to bring the health centre closer to the people. In May and June 2010, the management organized Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) days and nurses from the local government hospital visited the four VREL plantations. Snacks were provided to the workers waiting to be tested. The result showed that 22 out of its 600 workers are HIV positive.

Although VREL already had set up projects to raise awareness, management stepped up its efforts after the (anonymous) results were presented to ensure the campaign became more effective. Train-the-trainer programmes set up by the International Labour Organisation were attended and today 12 peer educators are raising awareness on the disease among VREL workers. Apart from general trainings, VREL invests resources in one-on-one meetings to educate the workers personally. Since 2006, the company has a work place policy to improve conditions of those affected. VREL also financially supports the workers who are ill, paying for their medical costs.

Cost:
On average, VREL spends around 2,000 GHC (or 1,250 USD) annually to roll out the HIV/AIDS work plan. The Fairtrade premium has been used to purchase condoms, invite external speakers as well as buy snacks for waiting workers during VTC days.

Result:
A new screening round has been scheduled in March, but VREL management already notices that the work plan is creating more awareness amongst its workers and they show more willingness to get tested. As a next step, VREL will extend the campaign to the local community. The biggest challenge they currently face, is to keep workers interested in the topic.