News Update

Fair Trade Advocates for Avocado Producers

Posted April 26th 2010

Article for Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Saturday, April 17, 2010 By Zack Gross

The benefits of “fair trade” are many. Fair prices mean that farmers benefit from pre-financing, have their production costs covered and receive decent wages. The “fair trade premium” is a bonus that goes to co-operatives and communities to fund such projects as clinics, schools, training courses and needed equipment. There is no child labour and efforts are made to ensure that women are full partners in any venture. Environmentally-friendly farm practices are encouraged – for instance, 85% of all fair trade coffee is organic. Foreign markets are found for fair trade crops and this trade, not aid, helps farmers produce their way out of poverty rather than being victims of predatory trade policies and dependent on aid programs.

The avocado is a new case in point, as this fruit, which we often treat as a vegetable, is now becoming available as fair trade certified. The avocado originated in Mexico and archaeologists believe that it was first used as long ago as 10,000 BC. At least 3,000 years ago, the avocado tree had been domesticated throughout Latin America and when the Spanish came to that region, the avocado was quickly shipped back to Europe – to Spain in the 1500s, to England in the 1600s, to Asia in the 1700s, to South Africa and Australia in the 1800s and so on around the world.

The word “avocado” is Nahuatl, in reference to the shape of the fruit, for our English word “testicle”. This, in itself, is a great punning opportunity! The Aztecs thought of it as a fertility-fruit. Also, due to its shape and rough green skin texture, some cultures called it the avocado pear or the alligator pear. Not everyone likes the taste and texture of the avocado, but it can be found in its fruit form or often in guacamole dips and even cosmetic treatments. While avocados tend to be among the more expensive items in any grocery store, in tropical climates they are relatively large, common and cheap.

One of the pioneer organizations in bringing fair trade, organic avocados into the North American market is Fairtrasa, led by the award-winning social entrepreneur Patrick Struebi. Fairtrasa started up in 2004 with Mexican avocados and added Argentinean wines in 2005. Since then, they have expanded to mangoes, limes, grapefruit, coconuts and other fruit, sourcing also in Peru and Southeast Asia and distributing to Europe as well as North America. Struebi saw that small farmers lacked capital, were squeezed by markets and middlemen, were getting poorer and abandoning their traditional way of life. As large companies seized their land, the rural poor became economic refugees, fleeing to the cities or across the US border. Fairtrasa provides capital, access to international markets, environment and food safety programs, entrepreneurial training, and local infrastructure, such as water, roads and computers.

Americafruit Magazine reports that in the years since fair trade avocados have been introduced into its market, demand has been strong and growing. One of the US distributors, Earth Source Trading, enthuses that their efforts “have had a substantial impact on the lives of hard-working farmers in Mexico”. This organic products company also says that its fair trade content is now up to 30% and that quality products are their goal, not quantity.

Entrepreneur Struebi also reports that fair trade products are a growth industry, with the North American and European markets increasing by at least one-third every year. One of his avocado producers is Alfredo Anguianos. In 1993, Alfredo gave up on a life on the land and paid a trafficker to smuggle him across the US border. After jobs such as washing dishes in Indiana and working construction around the country, he heard that his parents’ farm faced collapse. He returned home to what he thought would be a life of poverty but then joined the local organic producers’ association. Now, selling to Fairtrasa, he inspects his two metre high avocado bush-like trees, heavily laden with fruit. Fairtrasa pays Alfredo a minimum price which is above the world market price, plus the fair trade premium. If the world market price exceeds Fairtrasa’s price, then it automatically increases.

Alfredo says that there is more money in his family now for school books, food and house repairs. The key for him, he says, is the guarantee that his produce will be sold, and at a set price or higher. While Fairtrasa pays him $1.22 per kilo, including the premium, local traders try to exploit producers, offering only 70 cents. Given their ability in Mexico to grow avocados at different altitudes, avocados can be harvested year-round rather than the usual twice per year. This gives Mexican growers a definite advantage over other avocado-growing regions and means that sales potential really is unlimited. The future for Alfredo and the whole fair trade avocado market seems assured.

Manitoba grocers are also beginning to bring in fair trade, organic avocados. Look for the logo and ask your storekeeper. It’s another success story in community development, poverty reduction and good eating!

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This program was made possible with financial support of the Government of Manitoba,
and was undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada (GAC)

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