All in a day’s work: Faith Muthoni on collaboration, iterative processes and the nuts-and-bolts of operations work

4 March 2024   |   Caly McCarthy (Fairtrade America) and Cecilie Skytte Hansen (Fairtrade Africa)
Fairtrade’s vision is a world in which all producers can enjoy secure and sustainable livelihoods, fulfil their potential and decide on their future. How do we get there? With the knowledge, care and labor of stakeholders within and across the supply chain. Today, we celebrate the contributions of Faith Muthoni.

Hello! Please introduce yourself.

Faith Muthoni speaks to a group at a Golden Cup Fairtrade coffee event.My name is Faith Muthoni. I oversee the operations for the Eastern and Central Africa Network at Fairtrade Africa. I am based at the Nairobi, Kenya office. My role entails supporting the planning and delivery of effective programs, overseeing financial management and monitoring outcomes to ensure the achievement of our strategic and operational objectives.


What does a day-in-the-life look like for you as a staff member of a Fairtrade Producer Network?

One word summarizes my day to day: collaboration. I seek to ensure that as a team we make the best use of the resources we have to achieve the objectives of Fairtrade Africa and those of our donors. To this end, my day-to-day involves a balance of strategic planning, hands-on fieldwork, financial oversight, continuous collaboration with colleagues and a commitment to improving the lives of producer members through sustainable and Fairtrade practices. Different days will have a mix of priorities, and no single day resembles another.

One word summarizes my day to day: collaboration.

Financial management is at the heart of my work, so I regularly take time to review and analyze financial reports to ensure budgetary compliance and efficient use of resources. I also collaborate with program managers and team leaders during our regular team meetings to discuss progress, address challenges and strategize for upcoming projects, while fostering a collaborative and innovative work environment.

From time-to-time, I get to visit the field and participate in direct producer engagement. This gives me the opportunity to see firsthand the great efforts our producers are putting into sustainable farming practices. It also enables me to understand their challenges better, get feedback on our processes and determine the impact of our programs. This goes hand-in-hand with the monitoring, review and analysis of outcome data to assess and report on the success and impact of ongoing programs. This informs our decision-making and planning for future initiatives.

Of course, communications are a critical component of our strategy, so I work closely with the communications team to showcase the work that we do in our region. As part of this workstream I participate in the documentation of delivered interventions, realized outcomes and key learnings from program implementation for internal use, stakeholders and external publications.

I cannot achieve this work on my own. I work with a dedicated operations team which includes experts in the fields of finance, monitoring and evaluation, communications and membership services support. Our Head of Region and the Secretariat team are really supportive and dedicated to see us succeed in our mission.

You mentioned that as part of your work you visit farmers in the field–and that doing so helps to inform future programmatic decisions. Can you speak to a particular learning that you gleaned from visiting producers and how it subsequently informed a program?

A visit to participants of the FACSCA project (Fairtrade’s Alliance for Climate-Smart Supply Chains in Africa) indicated the efficacy of the Trainers of Trainers (ToT) approach, which had been used to train farmers on good agricultural practices and to equip them to serve as trainers on the subject matter back in their home communities. We noted that the ToT model worked well in cascading knowledge and skills to farmers on a continual basis, and we extended the ToT model to other programs to reach a wider scope, such as the Women’s School of Leadership.

Faith Muthoni stands next to a robust coffee bush alongside a coffee farmer.What has best prepared you for the work that you do?

Before taking up this current role, I supported the Coffee Team at Fairtrade Africa as the Team Leader. This gave me the opportunity to understand the intricate needs of the program team and the facilitation they offer to producers on a day-to-day basis. Working with farmers in various capacities also strengthened my understanding of the challenges they face and my ability to design and support interventions that can address these concerns.

I was once an auditor, evaluating the compliance of producer organizations to environmental, social and governance requirements of sustainability standards. This role gave me an understanding of what sustainability work producers are doing, and it spurred in me an ambition to work with farmers towards attaining resilient livelihoods.

Is there a single, primary challenge that farmers continually name?

The main challenge is access to markets. Farmers would like to sell more on Fairtrade terms. This is the main issue.

Further, farmers currently are facing a challenge of meeting the requirements of the new deforestation regulations, which require technical support and collaboration within the value chains in order to be implemented effectively and equitably.

Faith Muthoni reviews green coffee beans drying inside a greenhouse.What aspect of your work is your favorite? What about it is most satisfying/exciting/delightful?

My favorite part of my work is coming up with solutions that make work more enjoyable and efficient for the team. When the team is happy, I am happy.  I am most excited when I bring in an innovative approach and when I improve what I find because it is through our team and internal processes that we are able to see impact in the lives of farmers through what we do every day.

What’s one accomplishment from your tenure with Fairtrade Africa that you’re most proud of?

Facilitating the roll-out of the Fairtrade Coffee School powered by VUNA Origin Consulting in collaboration with Fairtrade International and FTA Coffee colleagues, to 133 students from 47 coffee cooperatives in Eastern and Central Africa is one achievement that makes me smile. These students received training on Green Coffee Trading Fundamentals and Digital Market Access via an online school. This enhanced the coffee trading skills of coffee cooperatives in Eastern and Central Africa and enabled them to gain the much-needed digital positioning skills. Before this training Rung’eto Farmers Cooperative Society did not have a website–and with the skills that they learned in their courses, they were able create one. It was testament to the fact that producers are embracing technology to boost their visibility.

Another accomplishment was coordinating the Living Income project in Uganda in collaboration with Fairtrade International and funded through GIZ, through which baseline data was collected from 300 farmers from 2 cooperatives in the Rwenzori and Mt. Elgon regions and enabled determination of the Fairtrade Living Income Reference Price for Uganda coffee in October 2022.  And this isn’t just an abstract reference price—brands are stepping up to pay it! For example, Fairtrade Original is one brand that has been keen to meet the Living Income Reference Prices in Uganda.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I can’t wait to see what we shall accomplish within the next few years. I am expectant, with hope for good things.

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