The Co-operative Group's CEO Peter Marks has admitted he "really didn't get" Fairtrade until a recent visit to Kenya.

Blogging this week on the website of the Depart-ment for International Development about his visit to a 'co-operative to co-operative' trade development project, Kibagenge, set up to help 11,000 smallholder tea farmers in Kenya, Marks wrote: "This trip opened my eyes. I really didn't 'get it' enough until I went there and saw the desperate poverty these hard-working and proud people are enduring."

People in Africa needed support through trade, not aid, he said.

"Of course, the current drought and food crisis in Kenya means millions of people there are in need of help now. But the best way to help Africa in the long term is not just with food handouts, it is by supporting economic growth. With the greater economic prosperity this will bring, more people will have the resources to cope with such disasters in the future."

He also urged other ­retailers to get behind Fairtrade. "While in the UK there are a few retailers that embrace Fairtrade with authority, there are many that don't. It would be great if those retailers actually welcomed Fairtrade enthusiastically, by sourcing from existing Fairtrade suppliers and by taking advantage of international development funding to bring more farmers into the system, or by supporting other development projects."

Kibagenge, which is made up of five co-ops, will be visited by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation later this summer in the hope it will be certified to supply the Fairtrade market.