The new year had barely begun before the news agenda made it clear that food was going to be a recurring theme throughout 2013. One day we were reading views about how food prices would keep rising due to poor harvests around the world caused by climate change. The next, pundits were analysing how the UK should deal with research showing one in two adults here is now overweight or obese, with rates projected to increase to two in three people obese within 10 years, here and in many other developed countries.
Whatever the daily digest of food stories, from bemoaning the fact that people cannot cook to campaigns about hidden additives, it became clear that we urgently need to find new and different ways for our global system of agriculture and food production. For us at the Fairtrade Foundation, and the many Fairtrade supporters in churches and other groups around the country, all this chimes with our long-held outlook. It seems timely that we are set to run a three-year campaign on food, launching the first phase during Fairtrade Fortnight (25 February to 10 March 2013) – so we are ready with messages to lobby government and all relevant parties for the food summit that will precede the G8 in Northern Ireland in June.
Fairtrade is a movement well-placed to contribute to any debate on food, looking both ways as we do to the producer and the consumer. Bringing the needs of the producer and the consumer together has been at the heart of Fairtrade from the start; the Fairtrade Mark itself is a symbol of the producer (with hand held high) and the person receiving the product, gesturing in greeting.
UN reports on global hunger calculate that half of the world’s hungry are actually farmers, struggling to feed their families or make a decent living because they are not paid fairly for growing the food we use every day. The fact that so many hungry people are themselves food producers shows just how out of balance our global food system has become.
Fairtrade has made real gains in recent years, bringing lasting benefits to more than 1.25 million producers in 66 developing countries. This year’s annual monitoring report shows growth in the number of participating farmers, workers and producer organisations across three continents and across all major products. There was a 19 per cent increase in Fairtrade Premium returns to producer organisations and a 22 per cent increase in overall Fairtrade sales revenues over the year before. And sales growth in certain product categories was considerably higher – for example in cocoa and sugar, where UK consumers’ demand has led to significant new brand switches to Fairtrade.
Still, as the 20th year of the Fairtrade Mark approaches next year in 2014, we need to step up the pace. Over the next few years, our strategy will be focusing in particular on smallholders, seeking to unlock the power of the many millions of small-scale farmers around the world who grow the products that we all take for granted. We need to reach more farmers and workers in ways that matter to them – producers like the Iriaini Tea Smallholders in Kenya who, using the confidence that Fairtrade has given them, have developed their own packing facility for exported tea and started selling their tea locally as part of an exciting new move to launch Fairtrade to the domestic market in Kenya.
In fact this year’s monitoring report shows that Fairtrade producers now invest over 50 per cent of their Fairtrade Premium back into their businesses, their organisational development and in supporting production and processing developments for their members. Better management of agricultural practice and business has emerged as the route to improving productivity and return, with the aspiration of creating more sustainable livelihoods. Meanwhile, farmers continue to grow food for their families and often sell surplus to local markets.
Investing in smallholders is important for global food strategies; we will be lobbying the G8 and international governments throughout our three-year food campaign, to draw on the lessons we have learned over almost 20 years. Please look out for campaign activities you may want to join in on at www.fairtrade.org.uk
Mike Gidney was appointed executive director of the Fairtrade Foundation in December 2012, succeeding Harriet Lamb CBE, who is now chief executive of Fairtrade International
This article was published in the February 2013 edition of Reform.