Mar 09 2013

Gareth Says: Supporting Fairtrade and the Malawi Fairtrade Network

gareth_thomas_headshotLabour MP for Harrow West, Gareth Thomas met with Frank Olok, Coordinator of Malawi Fairtrade Network, to hear about the challenges facing smallholder farmers during Fairtrade Fortnight (25th February – 10th March).

The Fairtrade Foundation has launched a new campaign for Fairtrade Fortnight calling for urgent action to support the 500m smallholder farmers who produce 70% of the world’s food, but are currently half the world’s hungry people. Frank Olok presented a copy of the report to launch the campaign, Powering up Smallholder Farmers to Make Food Fair, to Gareth Thomas MP. when smallholder farmers are producing cash crops at the sharp end of lucrative international supply chains, the global food system still fails them.

The campaign launches a five-point agenda for action and is calling on David Cameron to use his influence, when the UK hosts the G8 summit in Northern Ireland in June, to put smallholder farmers into the heart of governments’ trade policy and international and national business practice.

Frank Olok, whose network in Malawi represents around 10 Fairtrade producer organisation with a joint membership of 22,000 farmers explains: “The aim of this campaign is to raise awareness about the daily plight of farmers in developing countries who are amongst the poorest people in the world. Despite growing most of the world’s food they still struggle to make a sustainable living, get access to finance and improve their and their communities’ economic, and, social situation.”

fairtrade_garethGareth Thomas MP said: “I am proud to be supporting Frank and the Malawi Fairtrade Network as the message they are trying to send the Government is an important one. We rely on smallholder farmers for our everyday food so it is only right that we help them make a sustainable living.”


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  1. Jeremy Zeid HARROW UKIP

    Sorry folks, but “FairTrade” is a fluffy-wuffy crock to make us feel good and that we are “doing something”.

    The ONLY “Fair Trade” is FREE TRADE and until the EU and others drop their penal trade tariffs and barriers to manufactured goods from ASfrica and similar, nothing will change.

    Likewise until people in Africa are given PROPERY RIGHTS, they cannot raise funds to build businesses and provide employment.

    Add in “charities” who by sending “free” mosquito nets, as op[posed to helping local people to make and sell their own, creating work, employment and wages rather than relying on Big Overseas Charities, they like all of these “feel good” factors actually do more harm than good by keeping people as supplicants.

  2. Praxis Reform

    You’re wrong here, FairTrade concentrates on coffee, tea, sugar, chocolate, fruit, etc. Products which are all commodities that already trade freely on the world’s Futures markets; which means that you, me or Cadburys can buy October Cocoa contracts and have them delivered to a chocolate factory anywhere in the world, come contract expiration. The Producer can also use the same standardised contracts to sell forward their crop, so that we don’t find all of Ghana’s Cocoa hitting the market in April, and sending the price through the floor, because every producer sold in April, and thus now because there’s now no cocoa harvest available for the rest of the year, the price of chocolate shoots through the roof due to lack of supply, whilst the producer starves, since he sold at too low a price and has nothing more to sell.

    So much for an introduction to commodities trading: However, the “solutions” Mr Zeid describes simply add to the problems that other believers in the Austrian School of economics have created before him, with continual bleating about how markets aren’t free enough. In this situation, market participants pay no heed to quality, looking only to pay the lowest price for the goods they want to buy, which is great for dealing with taxes and unnecessary Government bureaucracy, but terrible for the workers, whose wages and benefits get hammered, because the bosses want to squeeze every last drop of profit out of them, all in the name of competition and selling more.

    This is the reason that we found recently that our beef supplies had become contaminated, because somewhere there will have been people with similar views to Mr Zeid saying “Beef has never been contaminated before, why are we paying all this money for all these tests? This expense is cutting into our profitability!” “let’s sack all these Scientists, give ourselves a pat on the back, and a bonus from all the money we’ve saved!”…

    This attitude can be traced back to Adam Smith, whose dream was to make everything cheaper; so that we could all (apart from the impoverished worker) buy and consume more. Now, although this is harsh on the workers, that dream wasn’t completely ridiculous in the 1760s (the worlds population was much smaller then) and there were few worries about exhaustion of the planet’s resources or meeting minimum quality standards.

    So, my minimal (I admit) understanding of what FairTrade does is to pay the cocoa producers a little bit more than they could get by selling their product through the futures market, in return for which FairTrade supposedly gets a better quality product, with which it can produce a superior quality chocolate bar that people can feel happy about buying – in the knowledge that they are helping some impoverished family in a developing nation somewhere – and which should be a better quality product than that made by rival chocolate bar manufacturers.

  3. Praxis Reform

    I’d originally thought the comment about free mosquito nets might be a strange sort of joke, since I can appreciate that a very simplistic argument for the ideal mosquito net solution is the production and distribution of these nets being handled locally, but then it occurs to me that Mr Zeid has political ambitions, and I suspect he might actually be serious.

    Yes, it’d be great if all of the economic activity from these “Big Overseas Charities” purchasing nets benefited the local economy. The problem is going to be, similar to comments above, one of quality and price.

    Could say a small local African factory produce mosquito nets to the same quality and price as a massive Chinese manufacturer, with specialised equipment and economies of scale? If the answer is no (which I think likely that it is), who is going to be crazy enough to invest in local African producers of the nets?

    The solution then is that it’s possible to bring a greater net benefit (no pun intended) to Africans through importing the nets, since more lives will be saved through people not contracting Malaria than local manufacturers are harmed by being put out of business through cheap imports of nets.

    These people need mosquito nets now, and by supplying them free, the Africans are themselves freed up to find other mechanisms to combat the disease, and work more directly tackling the root cause of Malaria, rather than worrying about the immediate problem of trying to make enough nets to protect themselves.

  4. Jeremy Zeid

    “Lives will be savewd” ONLY when we re-introduce DDT to kill off the mosquitos that live in peoples homes. I was deadly serious about the nets. We have created a continent of supplicants for handouts with no opportunity for local people to employ themselves and others and lift them out of poverty.

    This is not a “political” point, it is a practical one. Meanwhile the Chinese are exploitimng these countries in t=return for giving their scumbag governments weapons to keep the peasants under the cosh.

    If the Chinese or us were REALLY interested in helping Africa, we’d do as i suggested before and remove penal tariffs and perhgaps build that “mosquito net factory” in AFRICA.

    Sorry “Praxis” but I thought you were sensible until I read that pathetic diatribe regarding “my political ambitions”. It has NOTHING to do with them and everthing to do with sorting out the festering, supperating, running SORE that Africa has been turned into by a succession of of “do-gooders”, missionaries, colonialists, conquerors, scumbags and murdering, thieving dictators, almost ALL of them MARXISTS and “Socialists”.

    GROW UP!

  5. Praxis Reform

    I’ve never met a Politician that I agreed with yet, so it’s no surprise, Mr Zeid, that you aren’t the first… I would like to make a political point though, in that UKIP (quite rightly, in my opinion) asks awkward questions of the Government re Europe (which seems to have become increasingly expensive since the 1975 referendum, as well as increasingly remote from public accountability), along with EU immigration (which just seems to have been cocked up from the start). However, since we hear little else from your Party, the fear is always that the remainder of the policies might be really quite unpalatable. So, I think you’ve just proved this latter point, regardless of whether DDT is part of the policy package or not.

    Anyway, I’m quite shocked, not because of the ad hominem attack, but because I didn’t think anyone was ignorant enough not to realise the hazards associated with DDT, and because of the contingent catalogue of buffoonery.

    Now, if we we’re saying that the African Automotive or Pharmaceutical industry should be turned over to the Chinese, then I’ll agree – since, in the long run, Africans do need to build up their own industries. But I’m confident that they can do this in areas that are more profitable than weaving mosquito nets, after all, as soon as somebody comes up with a vaccine or cure for malaria, or even a better way to control the problem than with nets, then the bottom falls out of the mosquito net market, and all the investment you propose for the African mosquito net manufacturing industry will be worthless.

    The desired end goal here is the elimination of a mosquito borne parasite, meaning that simply maintaining ongoing production of nets is akin to saying “let’s not solve homelessness, but keep those poor unfortunates in shelters forevermore” or let’s not cure Cancer, but just create a drug that allows people to manage the symptoms and lead a relatively normal life”.

    From a business perspective, nobody is going to get rich making mosquito nets. The Chinese have manufacturing capacity, so let’s encourage the Africans to make use of that industry as a stepping stone in the eradication of malaria. There are no penal tariffs here, just plain old business sense. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s usually some egomaniac pop star giving him or her self warm fuzzies by donating a load of nets to the Africans, rather than the British taxpayer.

    The alternative is for someone to spend an awful lot of time establishing a business in Africa, which will be obsolete the day that malaria is no longer a threat… To establish this ultimately doomed business, you’re going to have to borrow money from banks that already don’t want to lend to established businesses, and then deal with more petty officialdom than you can shake a stick at, as well as corrupt African Politicians, who will expect their palms to be greased before you’re granted the necessary permits etc. and then you have to buy premises, machinery, raw materials, hire and train staff, etc.

    But on to DDT specifics: Europe has completely banned DDT, whilst interestingly; the US allows export of DDT but prohibits its import. Europe also has the world’s toughest health and safety laws, so in case you will argue REACH is all so much codswallop (it’s a European directive after all), here’s the DDT fact sheet from America’s National Pesticide Information Center http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/ddtgen.pdf Even more interesting to note is that DDT isn’t banned at all across most of Africa.

    What Mr Zeid is forgetting about the history of DDT is that in many places it failed to eradicate malaria, not because of environmentalist restrictions on its use, but because it simply stopped working.

    Insects have a phenomenal capacity to adapt to new poisons, and anything that kills a large proportion of the population ends up altering the insect population’s genetic makeup, so as to favour those organisms that manage to survive due to mutation… With continued presence of the insecticide, susceptible populations are rapidly replaced by resistant ones.

    In fact, pockets of resistance to DDT in some mosquito species in Africa are already well documented in the scientific literature. For example, there are strains of mosquitoes that can metabolize DDT into harmless by-products and mosquitoes whose nervous systems are immune to DDT. There are even mosquitoes who avoid the toxic effects of DDT by resting between meals not on the interior walls of houses (where the chemical is sprayed), but on the exterior walls, where they don’t encounter the chemical at all.

  6. Scott

    Jeremy Zeid – Is “YOU” on the “PIPE?” Half of what “YOU” write is made “UP” and the “OTHER” half is, “WELL”, unreadable. Where did you “LEARN” to write?.

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