Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Hanky-Panky is Out As Fair Trade Kicks in

from All Africa

Business Day (Johannesburg)

By Amy Brooke

ASK any sales assistant in the coffee aisle at your local supermarket where you might find Fairtrade products, and you're likely to be greeted with a blank stare.

Try the same in the UK, and you'll be spoilt for choice -- market research has shown that eight out of 10 Britons recognise the Fairtrade label and believe it is an effective means of helping the world's poorest people.

Such is the support for the movement that Marks & Spencer, one of the largest food retailers in the UK, has switched its entire range of house-brand coffee to Fairtrade. In the US, Fairtrade coffee sales have increased by 70%. And in Switzerland, half of all bananas sold are sold under Fairtrade labels.

Global sales of FLO (Fairtrade Labelling Organisation) certified products reached $600m last year. And with the demand estimated by the UK's Fairtrade Foundation to be growing by 40% year on year, the opportunities for farmers and small businesses in disadvantaged communities here and elsewhere in Africa are endless.

Up to now, it's a market that local producers have only touched on -- but that's about to change.

There are only 31 South African FLO-certified producers who offer mostly fruit, wine and rooibos tea to foreign markets. Now an international drive is under way with the aim of at least doubling that number and, most importantly, selling the goods locally.

"This represents for us at Fairtrade SA the culmination of years of solid groundwork -- a fair trade dream coming to life," says chairperson Noel Oettle.

In addition to the establishment of the Southern African Fairtrade Network (previously fair trade producers operating here have fallen under the broad African Fairtrade Network, which represents 170 fair trade farmers across the continent), two other significant initiatives have been launched to support poor African farmers: Fairtrade for Development in Africa, and Empowerment of Emerging Farmers through Fair-trade Development in SA.

The former project has received a cash injection of £5m over five years from British charity group Comic Relief. "This is the biggest financial support the Fairtrade movement has received to date, and gives a real chance to producers in Africa. It will trigger meaningful opportunities for African producers to lift themselves out of poverty and create sustainable livelihood for themselves, their families and their communities," says Fairtrade Foundation executive director Harriet Lamb.

The funds will be used for various Fairtrade developments across Africa, but a large part of the money will be pumped into securing SA's Fairtrade licence. "This means we will finally be able to put South African Fairtrade products on shelves in local supermarkets," says Oettle. "Until now SA has been a Fairtrade producing country only, exporting all our goods to the UK, Europe, the US, Canada and Japan. We are finally coming of age in terms of Fairtrade and can also become consumers of Fairtrade products."

Once licensed, producers can display the FLO seal and logo on their products, and while we'll pay a slight premium for Fairtrade goods, South African shoppers can be guaranteed that workers are getting a fair price for their labour, that they're working under fair conditions, and that a portion of the profits is being invested back into community development. The system is continually audited by FLO officers.

The rest of the grant will be used to provide substantial training for African producers about Fairtrade implementation procedures, quality management, technical assistance, and market access. The Fairtrade Foundation also hopes the sponsorship will act as a driver to help get other funders involved.

A second initiative was launched in Stellenbosch in October: the EU-funded Empowerment of Emerging Farmers through Fair-trade Development in SA. It has a 10-step plan of action to boost Fairtrade production in Africa by enabling access to markets, stimulating the development of links into supply chains and also involving the private sector.

Oettle says while SA's FLO licensing initiative will only be finalised in May next year, there are interim measures in place that will allow Fairtrade goods to be on the shelves from the beginning of the year.

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