Uncovering the Fair Trade Mystique

Solar Panels bring water and life to arid areas
Solar Panels bring water and life to arid areas

Fair Trade is a label displayed on products that cost ever so slightly more than similar items. For the most part, these products are grown with organic methods and represent the most sustainable growing practices for producers in developing countries.  Have you ever wondered just what is behind that label and what it means to purchase Fair Trade Products? There is a world of benefits for the producers behind the label.

In one of my first trips to Northern Peru, I was introduced to the concept of Fair Trade in the rural village of Tongorrape. At the onset, I was shocked that some people didn’t have the basic necessities, such as clean water and electricity. In these rural areas many homes didn’t have windows or doors, and I could peek inside and see a lonely television set running from a car battery.  I thought everyone lived like I did and was truly shaken to my core. Why so much inequality?

Peru  3April 2011 080The producers in the rural village of Tongorrape had decided to take a different course.  They enrolled in a Fair Trade certification program and began to make social change. The Fair Trade premium (usually $1.00 per carton) was collected in a fund that only their association could control. They elected a governance board to represent the people of the village to decide how the monies collected would be spent. Tongorrape is a desert village in the heart of arid northwest Peru. It is a great place to grow bananas with no fungal pressure. But not a great place to grow food or raise a family. What they needed most was better access to water in order to succeed.

Diesel Transportation
They dug basic wells to access the water but the poorest of them used buckets to haul the water up and irrigate their bananas. The more fortunate had installed pumps fueled by diesel. That meant money for fuel as well as the cost of transporting it, which usually meant the back of a donkey. It was a never ending battle of costs versus rewards. At the same time, the children didn’t have enough protein to eat in this desert climate. How would the children grow strong eating only bananas?

The association decided to invest its Fair Trade dollars into an infrastructure that enabled the producers to have sustainable access to water. They turned to the sun, which was plentiful and invested the Fair Trade money in solar panels that provided electricity to pump the water from the ground.  Suddenly they had plentiful clean water AND their bananas trees were robust and flourishing with big strong hands of delectable organic bananas. 

Vigorous bananas

The solar panels produced so much electricity they could string a few lines and have a light bulb in their homes from which the children could attend to their studies after sunset. They then carved out a small area, filled it with water and tilapia and it became a small pond, suddenly an excellent source of protein for the children to eat at lunch.  The middle of the desert had become an oasis of life (even some geese had returned to the area).  Everyone flourished.Oasis in the deser

The benefit came from the sun, but before that it came from the intention of the producers to have a better life.  The means came from their participation in the Fair Trade certification and Fair Trade premium process. With this extra $1.00 per cartons they could build a sustainable future for their families.

When you see the Fair Trade label displayed on a product, remember it isn’t just a few extra words printed on paper. It often means nutrition, water, light and education for those people growing our food in distant places. I wish I could bring you all there to witness the conditions people live in and the way Fair Trade products can make a real difference in the day to day lives of organic producers.

Buy fair Trade products whenever you can!  It won’t cost you much more and you can be sure it will have a huge impact on the lives of organic producers in developing countries. Fair Trade Banana producer

Tell me about your experience with Fair trade products.

25 thoughts on “Uncovering the Fair Trade Mystique”

  1. Hey Organic Matters – Thanks for the awesome explanation. I’m really looking for an update on how Fair Trade is actually working in the U.S. right now. It is my understanding that Fair Trade USA is no longer recognized by global Fair Trade organizations. Consumers in this country have been supporting Fair Trade because they want to support farmers and farmer co-ops, directly. Is FTUSA going forward with their intention to certify plantation farmers? It is my understanding that FTUSA is undermining the development of the global FT movement with its rogue intention that totally deconstructs what consumers believe they are supporting with the FT label.

    1. Hi Mindee,
      Thanks for the question. It is true that Fair Trade USA and FLO have parted ways over a few issues. My experience in Peru and Ecuador is that there is allot of production that occurs on plantations. The workers on those plantation may not be the direct producers but they certainly have the same needs for basic social services such as clean water, electricity, education and health care. Allowing plantations to be Fair Trade certified opens up those benefits to the plantation workers. The Fair Trade money that is collected goes into a separate fund that the workers control through a governance system. The workers decide how the money is spent, not the plantation owner. Additionally the planation must comply with superior working conditions before they can be certified. This gives the workers the benefits of bathrooms and rest areas well before Fair Trade money comes in. I support the work of FLO and FT USA. In my mind they are working towards the same goal each with slightly different methods.
      I hope that sheds some light. Melody

      Melody L Meyer
      VP Policy and Industry Relations UNFI
      phone 401.528.8634 ext 62225
      Fax 831/462-5718
      SKYPE melody.meyer
      Visit my Blog at http://www.organicmattersblog.com

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