Connections: Authentic Fair Trade and Local Farmers

 

On May 12-14, 2012, hundreds of thousands of people in eighty countries around the world will recognize World Fair Trade Day, calling attention to the importance and benefits of fair trade. The movement we support, Authentic Fair Trade, is a business model that takes into account social values, building equitable long-term partnerships between consumers and producers. Its mission is to empower (and not neglect) the most vulnerable farmers and artisans around the world.

We see the connection between authentic fair trade and the local foods movement, as well as to national efforts to craft a 2012 US Farm Bill that includes provisions for small and beginning farmers and ranchers. Small may be beautiful, but it is also vulnerable, especially today.

We see the connections between the commitments made by authentic fair trade businesses and the cooperative principles and values. These commitments are to:

1. Create opportunities for economically and socially marginalized producers

2. Develop transparent and accountable relationships

3. Build capacity

4, Promote authentic fair trade

5. Pay promptly and fairly

6. Support safe and empowering working conditions

7. Ensure the rights of children

8. Cultivate environmental stewardship

9. Respect cultural identity

Close to home, we see connections to the work of the Local Growers’ Guild, a multi-level cooperative of farmers, artisan producers, restaurants, retailers, and community supporters dedicated to strengthening the local food economy through education, direct support, and market connections. The mission of the Local Growers Guild is to create a local food system that:

1. Provides quality food to communities through direct markets and retailers

2. Preserves the viability of family farms

3. Improves the quality of life for growers

4. Makes food issues visible

5. Promotes practices that preserve and protect the Earth

In both cases, global and local, these are big goals. They suggest that we see the connections, noting the ways they overlap: what’s fair to a farmer at a local market applies to a supplier overseas. Instead of anguishing about whether or not to drink coffee, a product that might be roasted (but isn’t grown) in Indiana, locavores can choose to purchase authentically fairly traded coffee, aiming to ensure that small farmers everywhere are treated with respect.

2012 has been given two significant UN designations: International Year of Cooperatives, and International Year of Sustainable Energy for All. We see the connections there, too. These are initiatives that help change lives through the connections between sustainable development and social euquity.

At Bloomingfoods, we partner with a number of other food co-ops and the worker-owned co-op Equal Exchange to create an initiative called  Principle Six. Taking inspiration from the sixth cooperative principle, Cooperation Among Cooperatives, we work to improve the cooperative supply chains that link small farmers and producers with those people who use their goods. We see the connections between farmers in our own communities and those who grow bananas, cacao, coffee, or tea: they all require access to sustainable resources, energy, education, and sources of capital. They need help finding markets willing to work at a human scale. They benefit from the cooperative business model, which takes Concern for Community (Principle Seven) into account.

Connecting with small farmers and artisan producers in today’s global marketplace offers us a way to enrich our lives in tangible ways, to hear (and tell) stories from around the world about innovative community-building projects. It gives another layer of meaning to the goods and services we choose to use. At Equal Exchange, you can take a pledge to Stand by Small Farmers in support of authentic fair trade: insisting that fair trade not be diluted by the large-scale plantation structure that threatens to put small farmers out of work, displacing them from their land and control over their own cooperatives.

Listed below are just two organizations we’ve recently become aware of that also connect authentic fair trade with the cooperative principles.

Interrupcion fair trade: a stakeholder community working to build a sustainable future through responsible consumption, sustainable development, organic farming, and fair trade. Interrupcion aims to “interrupt habitual ways of understanding our personal impact on the world to develop a new, global sense of influence that creates responsible action.”

La Siembra Cooperative: founded in 1999 and based in Ottawa, La Siembra is the creator of Camino, a Canadian brand of fair trade and organic food products. La Siembra works directly with 18 producer co-ops, supporting 35,000 family farmers in ten countries across Central America, South America, and Southeast Asia.

We encourage you to explore these and other P6 resources (both global and local), making your own human-scale connections.

 

Ellen Michel, Bloomingfoods News editor