Years of growing vegetables for supermarkets in the UK taught me that the free market can be a harsh place for small producers. Distant producers are even more vulnerable. So is Fairtrade certification the answer? Can ethics be measured, certified and delivered via a free market to customers 3000 miles away who want to use their buying power to make the world a better place?
These are the questions I found myself asking last December in a small field of organic pineapples 100 miles north of Lome in Togo, West Africa. The first of the fruit was ready for harvest, the culmination of fifteen months of planting and weeding with only a mattock to help, and of ten years of planning, agronomy and organisation by the French company Pronatura. The field, one of the largest in this village, is the size of half a football pitch and the orderly rows are interspersed with termite mounds, papaya trees, palms, bananas and towering kapoc trees. The scene is well managed, harmonious and productive; organic farming at its best and in stark contrast to the intensive, large scale, foreign owned monocultures that are typical of export-oriented production in Africa. The goal has been reached: an organic, fair trade pineapple from small producers which can reliably meet the demands of an English supermarket buyer.
How 16p turns into £2.50