The real difference that a Fairtrade economy makes to the world’s poorest people was expressed by some of the beneficiaries of the movement at a conference in London this week.
Speaking through an interpreter, Demetrio Jimenez Gonzalez of the Coobana Co-operative in Panama told how farmers had been able to make improvements to their homes, which had not been repaired by their former plantation bosses for 50 years.
Demetrio reported that despite devastating floods in 2005, 2008 and 2010, caused by climate change, the co-operative had managed to increase productivity, selling 770,000 boxes of Fairtrade bananas in 2010 and forecasting the sale of one million boxes in 2012.
“Working with Fairtrade has allowed us to invest in community scholarships for young people, make improvements to people’s houses and invest in new technology,” he said.
The co-operative has also been able to invest in training for women, encouraging them to develop income-generating opportunities such as craft-making.
For women in Malawi, farming means intensive physical work, although with Fairtrade at least the smallholders are receiving more than peanuts for their peanuts.
The Fairtrade Premium paid to the Mchinji Area Smallholder Farmers’ Association had allowed the producers to invest in crop storage facilities and farming equipment, as well as health provision and education.
After giving a graphic demonstration of the methods used to till the soil and plant, and harvest the peanuts, Rosemary Kadzitche – who unusually for a Malawian woman speaks English – told conference delegates “The co-operative is very important. As a woman you get new ideas and knowledge. Now I have the courage to stand up and speak to you.”
The overseas producers were addressing a conference called Fair Enough? The Co-operative Journey for Fair Trade, which was jointly organised by Co-operatives South East and Co-operatives London to celebrate not only Fairtrade fortnight (27th February to 11th March) and International Women’s Day (8th March) but also the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives – described as the ‘perfect storm’ by Co-operatives South East chairman Jo White.
The conference heard from Sophi Tranchell, the managing director of Divine Chocolate, a Fairtrade business that is 45 percent owned by the farmers in Ghana who produce the raw cocoa beans.
Sophi analysed the meaning of ‘fair’ and ‘enough’. “To me, fair is about asking what people need to live and paying them the real value of what they are selling,” she said.
“The concept of ‘enough’ in our diets has changed, though. We’ve moved from ‘have you had enough?’ to ‘haven’t you had enough?’ We are aspiring to eat ourselves to death and this must stop. We are paying too little for our food and eating too much. If we paid more, we might eat less.”
It was a view echoed by Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University London, who said: “Around 1.3 billion people on the planet are clinically obese, yet the picture is one of starvation.”
“More people in the world are obese than are hungry. The food system is overproducing, but the food is in the wrong places and in the wrong hands. Should I, in winter, be able to buy at a supermarket green beans flown in from Kenya, or are those beans better used to feed the people of Kenya and Mozambique?”
“Our food system has to move away from Value for Money and towards Values for Money.”
And Ed Mayo, director general of Co-operatives UK, said: “Fairtrade was started by a coffee-producing co-operative in Mexico, and co-operatives have been at the heart of the Fairtrade movement. Three-quarters of the world’s Fairtrade produce comes from co-operatives.”
Fair Enough? was sponsored by Fairtrade London, Co-operative Membership, the Co-operative Hub and The Midcounties Co-operative. It was held on 7th March at Coin Street Community Builders, a social enterprise and development trust providing families on London’s South Bank with access to affordable housing and services. The event also included a Fairtrade Market, where producers and outlets sampled and sold their wares.