Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The Notion of Fair Trade

In our ever-increasing busy lives not many of us stop and think about where our food comes from; whether a fair price has been paid to the producer of that food or if anyone has been exploited in the process of getting that food to our table.

I had never thought about myself until a couple of years ago when I was fortunate enough to attend a function celebrating and highlighting the importance of "fair-trade". Kylie Kwong (Australia's ambassador for fair-trade) was there along with fair-trade coffee growers from Papua New Guniea. I was fascinated to hear their story and blown away by the impact our choices, as western consumers, have on the lives of those in the third world. Needless to say I had no idea the amount of work by growers that goes into the cup of coffee I enjoy every morning.

This me with Henry Arme who is from the Purosa region of Papua New Guinea

Fair Trade is a term that simply means that the producers of a product get paid a fair price for their produce. I watched a DVD recently called “Black Gold” – a very powerful documentary showing why growers in the third world don’t get paid a fair price for their coffee. Something that is very disturbing in this world of extreme affluence.

“Black Gold” is based in Ethiopia – known as the birthplace of coffee!
Tadesse Meskele manages a corporation of coffee growers and strives to achieve a better price for their coffee. Tadesse’s union buys coffee from 101 individual co-operatives around southern Ethiopia and sells it throughout the western world. It is the Sidamo brand of coffee and is considered to be one of the world’s best.

In Africa 1 cup of coffee costs 1 birr (US$0.12).
In the US is costs 25 birr (US$2.90).
You get 80 cups of coffee from 1kg of coffee beans.
Currently one kilo of coffee beans is been sold for 2 birr (23 cents).
In Western countries 80 cups is been sold for 2000 birr (US$230.00).
So out of that $230.00, the grower is getting 23cents.

The supply of coffee on the world market was once regulated by the International Coffee Agreement, until its collapse in 1989. Since then the price paid to farmers has fallen to a 30 year low. Tadesse believes that for his farmers to live well (meaning nutritious food, clean water and children attending school) they need to make 10 birr per kilo of coffee. The growers themselves would be happy with 5 birr per kilo. Last year they received only 1 birr per kilo.

On top of this, rich countries pay three hundred billion dollar subsidies every year to their farmers. Africa cannot afford subsidies to their farmers. In 2003 the World Trade Organisation (WTO) met in Mexico to review and set the rules for global fair trade. It was the hope that the poorer countries could trade on a level playing field with the rest of the world but unfortunately these subsidies will continue to protect farmers in wealthy countries. Today Africa is the only continent in the world to get poorer over the past 20 years. Its share of world trade has fallen to one percent because it cannot compete with western producers.

As a result Africa is now more dependent on emergency aid then ever before – more than seven million people rely on foreign aid in Ethiopia alone. Ironically, if Africa’s share of world trade increased by just one percent it would generate a further seventy billion dollars a year – five times the amount it now receives in foreign aid.

Tadesse shares an emotional story of poverty and unfairness in an affluent world. His hope is that “one day consumers will understand what they are drinking and demand to pay a fair price.” He believes the consumer can bring about change if they become aware of the producers and how they are suffering.

I think we can Live Better and through our consumer power we can Make a Difference. By buying fair trade we are empowered as a consumer to pay the grower a fair price. If the grower is paid a fair price he is then empowered to Live Better. Profit from fair trade is used collectively in the third world communities to build schools, educate the young, provide clean water and nutritious food, provide health care as well as infrastructure – all taken for granted here in Australia.
By Living Better and Making a Difference here in Australia we are allowing others to Live Better and Make a Difference within their communities.

“Awareness is the first step to change”

I was very moved by this DVD and feel that now I have this awareness I need to do something more. Here at Mammoth Health we are going to explore ways we can do more for these communities directly. We’ll keep you posted.

If you would like to watch Black Gold DVD, the Mammoth Health Library has a copy to lend out or click on the following link and watch online: http://www.blackgoldmovie.com/
' Live Better. Together We Can Make a Difference'