Conflictfood: Building Peace and Stability With Grains and Spices

Conflictfood started out importing fairly-traded saffron from a women's cooperative in Afghanistan.

Working with small farmers around the world, Conflictfood’s fairly-traded hand-picked regional products help strengthen economies and create opportunities for local communities.

Author Laura Wagener:

Translation Laura Wagener, 09.12.17

Working with small farmers around the world, Conflictfood’s fairly-traded hand-picked regional products help strengthen economies and create opportunities for local communities.

Afghanistan, Yemen, Palestine – maybe places we might first associate with military interventions and political instability. On a trip through Afghanistan two years ago, however, Salem El-Mogaddedi and Gernot Würtenberger (then just friends, now business partners too) realised that the lives of many of the local people were in fact dominated by quite other problems. For many small farmers, for example, it’s a constant struggle to earn a livelihood growing and selling anything but opium. The pair came across a self-organised women’s collective that had been able to break away from the opium poppy trade and had chosen to concentrate on a very special and lucrative product: saffron.

Saffron is one of the most precious and expensive spices in their world. Just one gram of the red strands can go for up to 30 euros. One reason for that is the laboriousness of the harvesting process (each saffron blossom holds only a few strands of the spice), but also the many middlemen that it passes through down the supply chain.

El-Mogaddedi and Gernot Würtenberger left Afghanistan in 2015 with two kilos of saffron in their backpacks, determined to do something to help support projects like the all-female saffron collective. That determination led them to found the startup Conflictfood that imports fairly-traded hand-picked food products from crisis regions around the world, working together with the producers within an equal partnership. By increasing sales for local farmers, Conflictfood helps strengthen local economic structures, open new perspectives and set the path for social development. Ultimately, they’re improving quality of life for people in those regions, meaning they’re less likely to feel compelled to leave their homes and seek opportunities elsewhere.

Conflictfood – an Online-Shop with a Moral Manifesto

Their first product, the Afghanistan box, doesn’t just contain fair trade saffron, but also recipes and a small newsletter written by the founders with information about the country and the local population – a nice way of raising awareness about the people living in the area where the product comes from.

Their next trip took the two founders to Palestine, where they picked up an ingredient that’s typical for Palestine but practically unheard of in Europe: freekeh. Freekeh is a type of grain that can be cooked similarly to couscous, and has a nutty taste. And there are other products in the pipeline too: next we could see coffee farmers in Yemen, olive producers in Palestine and salt cooperatives in Ethopia all joining Conflictfood.

Keep an eye on their website to see when new products become available in their online shop, and to check out their blog for reports on the latest news and developments from their suppliers and to find out more about their latest products.

Würtenberger ynd El-Mogaddedi aim to work in a way that is socially responsible and sustainable in the long-term, but also financially-viable. To ensure that, they’ve drawn up a manifesto, setting out the concepts that are crucial to the project:

  • Direct Trade
  • The Best From Every Region
  • Responsibility for Sustainability
  • Total Transparency
  • Telling the Different Stories
  • Investing in Education
  • The Joy of Pleasure

And what has all that got to do with education? Well, the project aims to initiate longterm social change, stating on their website: “We’re convinced that education is a major key to peace. A part of the selling price of each product goes to social and educational projects in the country of origin, which we chose carefully. These are visited by us personally and the cash flow is documented transparently on our website.”

And sustainability back home is writ large here too: products ordered from their website are packaged by people with disabilities in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, where Conflictfood is based.

This article is a translation by Marisa Pettit of the original which first appeared on RESET’s German-language site.

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