Fairtrade Fast

Sunday marks the end of the 40-day fast of Lent, and the drawing to a close of my self-imposed Fairtrade challenge. I have attempted to eat only Fairtrade or locally sourced (British) food for the lent period.

There have been a few obstacles along the way, notably the difficulties of eating Fairtrade or British products when eating out, or when invited to a friend’s for dinner. However, it has been a successful experiment, despite the initial unconvinced response from my family. I have succeeded in my mission (mostly – see obstacles above), perhaps not quite 100% of the time, but without kicking up a fuss in cafés or restaurants, and not wanting to inconvenience friends who have so kindly cooked for me, I have met my challenge more often than not.

The challenge has inspired some and confused others. My mother now avidly reads the labels on all the food she buys, and the local Fairtrade stall has had a booming business from us and others in the past few weeks. We have experimented with ordering an organic vegetable box (the majority sourced from the UK), although I’m still not sure if an extra layer of mud really is any better for you.  A variety of Fairtrade teas, cereal bars and biscuits now line the shelves in our kitchen and a visit to the local farmers market this weekend promises to bring some interesting additions to our diet.

It has been fascinating to see how far our food travels to reach the supermarket shelves, and has raised questions of supplier relations, whether giant supermarket chains are just sourcing the cheapest possible products, or whether they have any ethical standards for trading with the producers. A campaign I worked on last year lobbied supermarkets to treat producers fairly and engage in ethical trading practises. It has seen success in the implementation of an independent watchdog to monitor trading practices.

It has been encouraging to see the growth of Fairtrade, and now even in my local shop there are far more Fairtrade products on the shelves than when I first started this challenge. Whilst Fairtrade tea, coffee and chocolate are becoming mainstreamed, there is still a way to go before products like Fairtrade rice are more readily available.

I intend to carry on buying and eating as much Fairtrade or British products as is feasibly possible, but also recognise the importance of buying products exported by developing countries that play such an important part in contributing to their economy.

As I reach the end of my Fairtrade fast I’m very much looking forward to Easter Day, and hope that I might get to enjoy one of these delights!

Published in: on March 27, 2010 at 10:47 am  Leave a Comment  
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World Water Day

The UN have dedicated March 22nd as World Water Day. This year the focus is on waste water, polluting water sources across the globe and causing life-threatening diseases for those who rely on such sources for their daily water supply.

The UNEP have released a report detailing how waste water not only affects the people who drink from polluted sources but also the ecosystems dependent upon it.

A lack of clean water kills 1.8 million children a year, often dying from treatable diseases such as diarrhoea.

Yet the report suggests that many of the toxins present in waste water could also be directed to growing crops, as substances such as nitrogen and phosphorus act as powerful fertilizers.

Greater investment in the management of water sources in developing countries could therefore help to avoid millions of preventable deaths, and help provide valuable benefits for agriculture.

Published in: on March 22, 2010 at 6:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink

I saw an impressive contemporary dance show last night, a piece called Scattered, performed by Motionhouse. The piece was formed around the theme of water, moving north to south across the globe, from ice in the arctic, to the desert and even a section representing the depths of the ocean. It combined dynamic dance moves, aerial acrobatics, and stunning visual projections onto a carefully curved stage that looked like a wave. It was an inspiring performance, which left me reflecting on the vital role water plays in our everyday life.

I too often take the supply of water for granted. Turning on the tap, the shower, even flushing the toilet are all actions I hardly give a second thought. Yet for many, a clean reliable source of water is hard to find. The section in the dance show representing the desert portrayed one dancer in the centre of the stage, parched in the heat, surrounded by the others all with bottles of water, indifferent to her plight until she collapses from exhaustion and dehydration. 

Without water, the simplest of tasks becomes a huge obstacle. Any time there is a water cut, life suddenly gets more difficult. For some, accessing a clean and safe water supply is just too expensive.  The urban poor, with approximately 1 billion living in slums across the globe are often denied access to basic services, with utility providers directing their supply to the wealthier areas. WaterAid estimates that it costs 37% of a person’s annual income to connect to the water supply, a prohibitive sum for many.

The 15th African International Water Congress is currently underway this week, taking place in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, focusing on perspectives facing energy challenges and climate change. The hope is that this international congress will begin to successfully tackle some of these perceptions, and advocate for improved access to services for the poor. Water is life-giving and life-sustaining, an issue that cannot and must not be ignored.

How far would you go for Fair Trade?

Last week the Fairtrade Foundation celebrated a successful campaign to get one million and one swaps to Fair Trade products.

Fairtrade fortnight also highlighted the moves made by several organisations to take the fair trade movement into conflict-ridden countries. Tropical Wholefoods have partnered with Mercy Corps working in Afghanistan to source Fairtrade raisins from the Shomali plains north of Kabul. The project has delighted locals who used to thrive on exporting raisins, but has also met with several obstacles, notably the difficulty of certifying the raisins, as the area is deemed too dangerous to visit by fair trade labelling organisations.

The hope is that by rebuilding trade links, the producers can generate a reliable income that can be put towards rebuilding the community in war-torn Afghanistan. Adam Brett, the pioneer behind the project remains hopeful: “Trade is re-establishing itself there, but people are incredibly distrustful of each other, but at the same time they really want to do something positive to improve their lives.”

Similar projects have seen success in other conflict zones around the world, including coffee sourced from the Congo and olive oil from Palestine. Despite the seemingly endless obstacles, these pioneers of fair trade see potential in these populations, and are determined to help restore some social stability.

Published in: on March 15, 2010 at 1:09 pm  Comments (2)  
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What would Beyoncé do?

Today marks International Women’s Day, connecting women around the world and highlighting the plight of many women who still suffer human rights abuses across the globe. Talking to one of my friends at the weekend, she confessed that she sometimes tackles situations thinking ‘What would Beyoncé do?’ taking inspiration from a powerful role model for independent women.

Uniting independent women all over the world today, several charities have put together thought-provoking campaigns to draw attention to issues affecting the global female population. The role of women in agriculture is essential for maintaining livelihoods and providing for the household needs in many countries, yet female workers are among the most marginalised, often facing discrimination and lacking land rights to be able to farm. This is particularly evident in the country I grew up in, rural Tanzania, where poor farmers face increasing challenges to their livelihoods. Independent women are often those who suffer the most.

I’m not sure what Beyoncé would do if her livelihood was compromised in such an extreme fashion, but I’m sure she would admire these women of courage who keep going despite all the odds. Perhaps we should be inspired too, and respond in whatever way we can, regardless of our gender.

Published in: on March 8, 2010 at 1:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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