As Fairtrade Fortnight gets underway, a leading organisation has described the scale of food shortages facing producers as a chronic, systemic problem.
Speaking at a recent press briefing, Michael Gidney, Chief Executive at the Fairtrade Foundation, which hosts the fortnight, described the ongoing “scandal” that farmers and producers feed us, yet are unable to feed themselves.
His words come as the fortnight takes on the theme of ‘Sit down for Breakfast. Stand up for Farmers’, where retailers and consumers are being encouraged to make the switch to Fairtrade to enable producers to be able to feed themselves and their families.
Gidney told the briefing: “There is an ongoing scandal at the heart of our food industry; 400 million farmers go hungry every year. It is chronic, and it is a systemic problem. They grow the food that we eat – coffee, tea, sugar and bananas – that we take for granted. But they do not earn enough from their harvest to see them through to their next harvest, to get enough value from their product to put food on the table to feed their families.
“That’s an incredibly unreasonable proposition. Globally, there are millions around the world who are obese – that’s clearly a problem that can be solved. The solution has to be that farmers are unable to feed themselves. We are not going to achieve our global ambitions for a sustainable world until we solve this.
“We believe that consumers wouldn’t want to profit from that kind of poverty. Consumer power is the driving force behind Fairtrade – Fairtrade works if people buy it. It is a way of putting more value into the hands of farmers. The more people buy Fairtrade, the more we can change the system.”
The briefing heard directly from producers, who highlighted what life was like before Fairtrade, but also how much more could be done if they could sell higher volumes of their products for Fairtrade.
Patrick Kaberia Muthaura is a tea producer in the Nyambene hills, near Mount Kenya, and he described the movement as wonderful, adding that it had enabled children to go to school and some to university.
But he continued: “If prices were bad, we skipped a meal. When we started with Fairtrade, it stabilised the market.”
And Julio Mercado Cantillo, a banana farmer in Columbia, added: “The company that exported for us, we didn’t know what price they were exporting at. Since Faritrade, we are aware of everything that’s going on with our products.”
Julio sells 50 per cent of his bananas as Fairtrade, meaning so much more could be done if demand was higher and he could sell more as Fairtrade. And the impact it has made is huge.
“If it wasn’t for Fairtrade, virtually all of the farms in the region would have disappeared as there was not enough to sustain ourselves,” he said.
Gidney added: “Farmers are so used to hunger at certain times of the year that they give it a name – the thin months, the months of the big stomach.”
The good news is we are seeing growth, with Gidney pointing out that most commodities where Fairtrade is available is seeing growth. Volumes of Fairtrade tea, coffee, cocoa and banana all grew in 2015, with five million Fairtrade bananas being eaten each day, meaning greater financial premiums for the farmers and workers.“That’s a wonderful inspiration for us,” he added.
So, what Fairtrade Fortnight all about? And how can you, as retailers, make a difference?
This year’s event, which runs from February 29-March 13, takes on the theme ‘Sit down for Breakfast. Stand up for Farmers’, where people are being encouraged to sit down for a Fairtrade breakfast to help raise awareness of how buying Fairtrade products for breakfast can help ensure farmers and workers can feed their families. You can find out more about the event at www.fairtradefortnight.org.uk