Guy’s newsletter: Fairtrade; not perfect, but worth supporting

Our pineapples are grown by small scale, organic, Fairtrade farmers in Togo, West Africa. It’s an insanely idealistic and ambitious project co-ordinated by the NGO ProNatura who must win trust, co-ordinate production and provide technical support to hundreds of widely dispersed farmers on tennis-court sized fields cut out of the bush. Once the farmers have carried the fruit in baskets to a dirt road, containers must be packed, loaded and transported on decrepit trucks to Tema in Ghana, ready for the 10-20 day journey to Southampton. Overall it’s a huge credit to everyone’s determination to make Fairtrade work. It is also a testimony to the commitment of our staff and forgiveness and support of our customers, because inevitably the first few containers were a disaster; it would be much easier to buy airfreighted fruit from larger scale suppliers.

I visited the project in 2010 with its backer Henri de Pazzis (see the video), partly to see for myself whether Fairtrade really works for producers. From this in addition to meeting our banana growers in the Dominican Republic, coffee growers in Brazil and cocoa growers in Ghana, my conclusion is that though there are persistent problems in rewarding quality and guaranteeing a niche market for the produce, on balance Fairtrade is improving the lives of small scale farmers. Like organic farming it may not be a perfect or whole answer, but as an alternative to the brutal exploitation of world commodity markets, it is doing a pretty good job and deserves our support.

That said, after 20 years of growth, last year UK Fairtrade sales fell by 4%. Some blame the rise of discounters and the recession, but I suspect that cynical and often bogus claims of alternative products being “better than Fairtrade” have eroded support and given us an excuse to be selfish. Traders the world over hate anything that gets in the way of them cutting a good deal. More irritatingly is the rise of the bearded food trendy who has come to lament Fairtrade as an obstacle to rewarding consistent crop quality. They have a point, but I could introduce them to many a farmer whose children would not have gone to school or had medical care without Fairtrade; perhaps they might muse on that as they lament the lack of complexity in their Hoxton brew.

Guy Watson

8 responses to “Guy’s newsletter: Fairtrade; not perfect, but worth supporting

  1. RE: Fairtrade, totally agree Guy the word I somewhat feel has been highjacked and denigrated! I always buy fairtrade when and where I can!

  2. Good blog Sir. Is there an argument that Fairtrade should be applied to British farming, what with the squeeze on milk prices by the supermarkets etc., but then comes the question ‘what is a fair price?’ is it what it costs my neighbour with 600 cows or chap up the road with 80 outdoor cows to produce a litre of milk? They have very different businesses with very different overheads etc.. just a thought!

  3. Thanks, Guy.
    “I could introduce them to many a farmer whose children would not have gone to school or had medical care without Fairtrade”
    says it all…

  4. Thanks,Guy
    I am a small consumer ,but I totally support what you are doing.
    Being a brazilian,I know the strugle that my people have to do
    to survive.Many thanks for your initiative,carry on my friend.

  5. As to the pineapples – I find the ones I get from you are far superior to supermarket ones (inc their ‘fairtrade’ ones). When I buy yours, I can always use the core as well, which makes for less waste, therefore much better value for money. The supermarket ones have hard cores which have to be thrown away – I don’t know how this works but am now willing to wait for yours, even though it is my favourite fruit. I do buy Fairtrade but try to avoid it from a supermarket whenever possible.

  6. Well said Guy, especially your comment at the end. FairTrade should be the default position on international trade, not some specialist position that people who care about their fellow human beings have to fight for. I also wonder if Jerry has a point about applying FairTrade to our dwindling bunch of hard-working dairy farmers here in the UK.

  7. I enjoyed reading this until the last paragraph, which is little more than negative and harmful propaganda.

    The issue of fairtrade vs not-fairtrade is much more complex than this. You are missing the point entirely by attacking people who also care about farmers getting a better deal, and while fairtrade is in so many ways a great thing, it is not the only way for that to happen.

    Both fairtade and a policy of awarding quality financially have significant limitations. Both also have the potential to change lives (fairtrade does not have a monopoly on this) and both are better than the alternatives. Both should be supported to promote the end goal of giving growers (and their children) a better deal.

    Your crass assessment of bearded Hoxton hipsters is utterly inexcusable in this argument (Can you honestly say you would point fingers at a social group in this way if they were anything other than white?). No argument about something as important as this should ever be made with such lazy estimations. Especially not by somebody who has (quite rightly – with the exclusion of this article) earned a great deal of respect.

    If you really want to support growers- all growers, then you cannot exclude those without fairtrade certification. It is true that many of them get a raw deal, but it is also true that some of them get a better deal. I am disappointed that you are using your blog to narrow your readers’ understanding of this complex issue in this way, rather than widening it.

    Shame on you.

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