Tag Archives: fairtrade

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

Conditioned to forget

As I write, our root harvesters are edging across some of our better drained ground, lifting parsnips and Jerusalem artichokes. High pressure has brought a week of sunshine and drying easterlies. By the time this arrives with you, I am hopeful heavier fields will have drained enough to allow us to lift the potatoes and beetroot that have been trapped in sodden ground since October. Our beloved purple sprouting broccoli has been gathering pace, with the later, higher yielding varieties starting to head. Hopefully it will be in most boxes most weeks for the next two months – enjoy it while it is here; summer varieties don’t taste as good. The moles are busy excavating; how did they survive the six foot of racing water last month? We are sowing the first spring-sown broad beans this week followed by the first potatoes, cabbage in two weeks and little gem. It is a joy to be starting anew as reminders of last year’s poor crops go under the plough and we feel the first teasing warmth from a sun climbing higher each day; hope springs eternal in the human breast. As mothers say of childbirth, farmers might say of 2012: ‘we are conditioned to forget’.

If Horsegate has shown us anything, it is that certification and form filling are poor substitutes for direct relationships in ensuring honesty in our food chain. Trust and credibility established over years of trading brings out the best in us; impersonal bureaucracy, the worst. Of course, this is easier if your trading partner is close.

We visit our banana growers in the Dominican Republic, but with 4000 miles of ocean, plus cultural and language barriers, we think we are better relying on the Fairtrade Foundation to ensure workers and growers are treated fairly. Hence, our bananas are Fairtrade certified. Working with Fyffes (who transport and ripen the bananas) to promote Fairtrade Fortnight, we will donate 20p from every bunch of bananas sold to the Send a Cow project we support in Uganda. That all sounds horribly convoluted, but getting morality and global trade in the same sentence will always be challenging.

To find out more about Send A Cow and the work they do to help African families learn how to grow enough food and look after livestock to eat, visit: www.riverford.co.uk

Guy Watson