How swapping to Fairtrade products can change lives
- Credit: Elaine Coltham
As we do our weekly food shop, we no doubt notice the array of products stacked across the shelves, and the sheer volume of options we’re presented with.
You’ve got your bog-standard household name brands that everyone’s familiar with. Then there’s the everyday value supermarket brands, the supermarket’s more luxury brands - and you’ve also got Fairtrade.
But how often have you opted for one of the cheaper or more known brands, in lieu of going Fairtrade?
Every year, volunteers around the country work together to help raise awareness of Fairtrade-certified goods through Fairtrade Fortnight. Taking place this year between Monday February 21 and Sunday March 7, it aims to highlight the challenges that farmers and workers across the globe face.
Elaine Coltham, chair of Ipswich Fairtrade Steering Group explains why making just a few changes in your food shop can really make a difference – and how there’s more to Fairtrade products than just bananas.
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But firstly, what is Fairtrade, and what makes a product Fairtrade?
“If a product is Fairtrade, it simply means the producers and farmers receive a fair price for their goods. Generally, these farmers come from poorer countries and are the ones growing the commodities we enjoy, such as tea, coffee, bananas – I could go on forever.
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“On top of that fair price, they also get a premium too,” she adds.
It’s with that additional premium that the farmers and suppliers can improve their communities alongside their living and working conditions. Premiums are often spent on education, medical care, water facilities and infrastructure.
On average, each Fairtrade producer will receive around £108,000 in premiums.
“It’s important the people receiving the premium have the right to decide what’s best for their own communities. It’s all about making people’s lives safer, better and more dignified.”
Knowing how much of a difference Fairtrade food can make – what sorts of goods can be purchased ethically, and where do they come from?
“A lot of people tend to think of bananas, chocolate, coffee and tea - but Fairtrade goes so much further than that, and the list of things you can get now is absolutely amazing.”
The ever-expanding list includes honey, herbs and spices, wine, nuts, oils, quinoa and fruit juices. These can come from all corners of the globe - whether that’s Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, South America or the Indian Subcontinent.
The most recent statistics from The Fairtrade Foundation show there are currently over 1.70 million Fairtrade farmers and workers globally, working across 73 countries.
“There’s masses of products – both food and non-food out there – and by buying them, this will help people work their way out of poverty.”
Elaine has seen first-hand how much of a difference purchasing Fairtrade can do for those involved, as has met a number of growers and producers, and has seen how that money has greatly improved their lives.
“It’s amazing to meet the people who are growing the things we enjoy. I know one farmer was using some of the Fairtrade premium for planting trees to improve water retention to help with the impact of climate change. Another community invested in a motorbike to transport women to hospital where they could receive midwifery care. In Ipswich, we also met Patrick, a tea farmer from Kenya, where he visited Copleston School with us and spoke to a hall full of pupils.”
While the world has understandably been preoccupied with the effects of the ongoing pandemic, Elaine wants to remind people that climate change is having an equally drastic effect on these producers – and that by buying Fairtrade produce, you can really make a difference.
“One of the things effecting growers and farmers across the world is climate change – but it’s those in the global south that have contributed the least to climate change but are disproportionately affected by it. It’s fast becoming one of the biggest challenges they face.”
Elaine adds that due to the low prices for crops and goods these farmers produce, the more money they can receive through Fairtrade, the better equipped they will be to deal with some of these challenges.
“People often think ‘what can I do about poverty around the world?’, and it may feel difficult to know what impact you can make, but buying food that has the Fairtrade mark on it will make a huge difference to these people’s lives.”
The Fairtrade mark can be found on all Fairtrade-certified products, and is comprised of blue to represent optimism, green to symbolise growth and a black arm in the air, representing growth.
Across the region, the East of England Co-op has been supporting Fairtrade for two decades, and was one of the first supermarkets to sell Fairtrade bananas. Today, 100% of the Co-op's own chocolate, tea, coffee and sugar are all Fairtrade.
Niall O’Keeffe, East of England Co-op joint chief executive says: “We are committed to giving suppliers a fair price - whether they're part of our Sourced Locally initiative, or a cocoa farmer in Ghana. We believe that Fairtrade is the gold standard because when trade is fair, it has the potential to improve the lives of the farmers and workers who grow our food.”
Beyond buying Fairtrade goods, those wishing to shop more ethically can find out more about Fairtrade Fortnight through the organisation’s virtual festival which is taking place over the next two weeks, and features a variety of online events and activities.
To find out more, visit Fairtrade Ipswich's website.