Fairtrade Fortnight 2005
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Date: 1 March, 2005


 

'The difference Fairtrade has made in Orimia, where coffee is central to the economy and culture, is abundantly clear.'

March starts with a fanfare for fairly traded goods as Fairtrade Fortnight runs for the next two weeks. The ethical consumer is becoming a force to reckon with in the UK, willing to back products that help developing world growers. Susan Roberts reports

The news was music to Tadesse Meskela’s ears. Sales of fairly traded products hit a new high in the UK last year, according to the latest figures from the Fairtrade Foundation – and fairly traded coffee was the biggest seller.

Meskela, from Orimia, Ethiopia, was in the UK to promote Fairtrade Fortnight. He runs Fairtrade cooperatives back home, an area in southern Ethiopia said to be the birthplace of coffee. Under the scheme, growers are guaranteed a certain price for their product and thus able to plan for the future and improve their lives.

“People in the UK have to keep buying,” he said. “We have cut out the middle man, people operating between the coffee grower and the consumer in another country. These cooperatives are organised democratically. A grower now gets two and half times more than he used to get by selling to the middle men.”

Difference

The difference Fairtrade has made in Orimia, where coffee is central to the economy and culture, is abundantly clear, Meskela reported. Kafa, believed to be the original home of coffee and the origin of the word ‘coffee’, is part of Orimia region. But in 1999, exports started to tumble as world prices fell. Growers faced a real crisis and struggled to feed their families.

The Oromia Farmers’ Cooperative Union was set up that same year with 35 member cooperatives. It was the first of its kind in Ethiopia, and Meskela became its first general manager. Now, it has doubled in size, with 74 cooperatives representing nearly 70,000 farmers. Eleven of these cooperatives are Fairtrade certified. Some 9,000 farmers are involved, producing about 3,000 tonnes of organic coffee annually.

As these Fairtrade cooperatives receive a guaranteed price for their coffee, the life of the farmers and their families has changed. Traditionally, the vast majority live on less than one hectare of land, in small roundhouses made out of mud and stick, and roofs made out of thatch.

“People are now able to send their children to school,” said Meskela. “In the coffee area, there are only elementary schools. Because of lack of money, most of them could not send their children to travel 20 km or more to high school because when they go to high schools, they have to stay in a city, rent accommodation, afford to buy food. Now the older children can be better educated.

“There are some farmers who have changed their houses from grass roofs to corrugated iron. Some who have bought cows, sheep and goats. They’re eating better.”

The cooperatives’ income from fairly traded coffee also includes a Fairtrade premium – money to be dedicated to improving the life of the community as a whole. This, too, has paid dividends.

“Four primary schools are being built, water pumps have been installed and two health clinics are under construction,” said Meskela. “Life for these people is getting better. We can see improvements.”

Sales

According to Fairtrade Foundation figures, UK retail sales of fairly traded products jumped 51 per cent to £140 million last year. Sales of coffee rose to £49.3 million in 2004, compared with £34.3 million in 2003 and just £13.7 million in 1998. It was by far the most popular fairly traded product - bananas sold £30.6 million (£24.3 million in 2003), chocolate £13.6 million (£9.2 million in 2003) and tea at £12.9 million (£9.6 million in 2003).

The theme of this year’s Fortnight is “Check out FAIRTRADE”, a call to consumers to find out more about the Fairtrade Mark awarded by the Foundation. The aim is to deepen understanding about the positive impact of fair trade and to highlight the guarantees behind the Fairtrade Mark, says executive director Harriet Lamb.

“It’s so quick and easy for shoppers to choose products with the Fairtrade Mark, and yet the difference this makes to producers can be dramatic.

“The Fairtrade system demands huge efforts from farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America as they organise into democratically run groups and implement changes in agricultural practice. This ensures that the gradual improvements which Fairtrade makes possible are sustainable, giving communities a real chance to build a brighter future.”

The Fairtrade Foundation was set up in 1992 by Christian Aid, CAFOD, New Consumer, Oxfam, Traidcraft and the World Development Movement. Today, it estimates that more than five million people across 49 developing countries benefit from its guarantees that disadvantaged producers are getting a better deal.

According to the Foundation, the UK has now overtaken Switzerland to become the biggest Fairtrade market in the world. Although coffee, bananas, tea and chocolate are the main sellers, newer products like Fairtrade wine and beer, roses and even footballs are also helping to spread the word.

Events

An estimated 7,500 events are planned for this year’s Fortnight: many major retailers are planning events and promotions. The Co-op is launching six new Fairtrade items – Premium White Rum, Fairtrade honey ale, three new chocolate bars and organic tea bags. Rallies, breakfasts, wine-tasting evenings and Fun Runs are planned across the country.

And killing two birds with one stone – Mothers’ Day and fair trade - are six fathers in Ealing, west London. On 5 March, the night before Mothers’ Day, they plan to transform St Paul’s Church into an Italian restaurant complete with fountain, frescoes and lambrettas. Mothers - hopefully 100 of them - will be served a four-course meal.

“The idea was simple,” said organiser Richard Colthurst. “Dads lay on the event and mums simply relax and enjoy themselves. Mums were invited from around the community. Dads were asked not only to buy a ticket for their wife, but also for mums who are parenting alone.”

At the end of the evening, Fairtrade chocolate bars will be given to all diners so that not only women in Ealing can enjoy the evening: mothers in Ghana will benefit, too. Divine chocolate bars, made from cocoa produced by a cooperative of Fairtrade farmers, have been presented by the Day Chocolate Company.

“We’re delighted to support this wonderful event which celebrates mothers and all they do!” said company spokesperson Charlotte Borger. “ Every last mouthful of Divine means a fairer deal for cocoa farmers in Ghana (and, because they own a third of the company, a share of the profits too).”

If you’d like to organise your own event, the Fairtrade Foundation has produced leaflets, postcards and postcards. To check out what’s happening in your area, visit www.fairtrade.org.uk

Read 10 Years of Fairtrade
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