ChicksLoveFood.com (link to their food blog) blogger Femke was part of the Roving Reporters team that visited Morocco. In this blog she writes on her findings.
On behalf of chickslovefood.com I was able to visit Morocco last week. Agadir to be exact. It was a great trip, but also a confrontational one. Fairfood International invited me to come to Morocco to meet tomato pickers, and for me to see where our tomatoes come from during winter time. The organisation fights for better conditions for these workers, which is – as I have now seen with my own eyes – very much needed.
It’s October 7th when I, together with Imke (Fairfood International) and blogger Daisy, arrive in Ait Aamira, a small village just outside Agadir. We are here to speak with some tomato pickers. All of them are women, most of them no older than 35. They all joined a union, FNSA (Federation Nationale du Secteur Agricole), to fight for their rights.
Yellow walls and cockroaches
The women welcome us into their office, which is no more than four yellow walls without windows. There is, however, a huge cockroach on one of the walls, which makes it hard for me to concentrate.
We brought an interpreter, which is good because we don’t speak Arabic nor French. We are allowed to ask anything that’s on our mind, and so we do. Zahra, who is sitting next to our interpreter, does the talking.
An ordinary working day starts at 6 a.m., Zahra tells us. She gets up, prepares breakfast and lunch and makes sure the kids are ready for school. She starts work at 8 a.m. All the workers get picked up by a special bus, one the successes of the union.
Working in a greenhouse is anything but fun. During summer, temperatures can go up to 55 degrees Celsius. In winter, when it’s still around 20 degrees Celsius in Agadir, it feels like 35 inside the greenhouses. I realise I have been complaining about the “hot” weather (30 degrees) all day and decide to stop doing so from now on.
The workers come in contact with a lot of dangerous substances, such as pesticides. The union managed to get protection for this, so they now wear mouth caps and work clothes.
6 euros per day
Fairfood told me that a living wage in Morocco should be around 15 euros a day. The tomato pickers, who work 6 days a week, tell us they only make 6 euros. Each month they earn around 150 euros. To put things into context, we ask them how expensive everything else is. Rent costs around 60 euros, and bread costs around a euro each day. We don’t even have to question if what’s left of their salary is enough to support their family.
I have no words, neither has Daisy. Khadija, one of the women present, breaks the silence and asks us if we want to see where she lives. We tell her we’d like that. She guides us to her apartment down the street, and I immediately notice it looks just as sad and miserable as the office we just came from. There are some pots and pans on a wobbling table, there is no diner table. She takes us to her living room. I see a big couch, some pillows and that’ s about it. This is the end of the tour. I wonder where she sleeps, and before I know it the question slips out. ‘You’ve already been to her bedroom,’ Imke tells me. It turns out she sleeps on the couch in her living room.
We go back to the office of the union. It’s our last chance to ask questions, but both Daisy and I are exhausted. All we have left to ask the tomato pickers is how they want us to help them. Do we need to boycott the tomatoes in our supermarkets? No, because if we do, the women might lose their jobs. Zahra just wants us to tell consumers their story, make them aware of the conditions in this industry.
Moment of realisation
Once we’re back in our hotel I try letting everything sink in. I have nothing to complain about back home, my life is full of luxury. I’m a lucky girl. Right before we went to see the tomato pickers I dropped my phone, it was completely damaged. We went looking for a GSM-store and within the hour my phone was as good as new. Costs? 55 euros. I now realise 55 euros is 1/3 of what those women make in one month. Did it bother me? No, because for me, that money is nothing. Now it’s a moment of realisation and I almost feel guilty for not bothering.
So guys, next time you are in your supermarket and you’re about to buy those super cheap tomatoes, or beans or bananas or whatever, stop for a second. Stop and think: there is a reasons these fruits and vegetables are that cheap. Very often, our fruits and veggies come from (tropical) countries where workers are being disrespected and get paid a poverty wage. I hope my story made you aware of this. And I also hope that together we can and will make a change.