Tag Archives: pineapples

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

Can free trade be fair trade?

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?

fair-trade-pineapple1

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