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)
Posted May 8th 2014
Article for Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, March 24/14
Fair Trade Fruit Benefits Farmers
By Zack Gross
In my work educating and promoting about fair trade, I have found that one of the most popular food items available in that category is dried fruit! Who woulda thunk it!? It’s not inexpensive and it’s healthy – but people still buy it! While coffee garners 70% of fair trade food sales in Canada, it is the supply of dried fruit – mango, pineapple, banana, coconut and goldenberries – that retailers and distributors can’t keep in stock.
Millions of people worldwide depend on fruit production – both fresh and dried - for their employment and family’s food security. This includes oranges, avocados, grapes, grapefruit – but just like other crops this column has looked into, there is a rotten side to the fruit industry that means the people working the land are most often overworked, underpaid and forced to put up with unsafe conditions.
The fair trade system favours smaller production units and cooperatives, offering a sustained, minimum price and regulated working conditions. The fair trade premium that the system includes is often invested in producers switching to organic farming, thus also bringing in further premiums and better prices.
Differing from the conventional corporate or plantation model, the cooperative system allows for greater participation of the workers in decision-making. As well, children under sixteen are not allowed to take on regular labour duties on fair trade operations and older teens are still expected to attend school even if they contribute to the labour force.
People have gone bananas over fair trade. Even though most Canadians may think that the apple is our most popular fruit, in fact it is the banana. (Throughout the world, it is the tomato!) Humans have been eating bananas for 10,000 years and while the banana originally came from the Asia-Pacific Region, it followed the trail of colonization so that it is now grown in all tropical zones.
Traditionally, the banana industry has been very concentrated in the hands of a few companies that have ruled whole countries, hence called “banana republics”. The harvesting work is back-breaking and the return to actual farmers is miniscule. However, fair trade banana sales were launched in the Netherlands in the mid-90s and sales have grown worldwide by 20% per year since, generating $10 million for disadvantaged rural workers. Bananas were the first fair trade fruit to arrive in Canada, in 2004, mostly from the Caribbean and Latin America.
Level Ground Trading is a fair trade company based in Victoria, BC. It has a longstanding relationship with Ten Thousand Villages stores, but you can find their coffee in particular in many other stores, including Costco. In recent years, they have invested in dried fruit operations in Latin America, working with producers who wanted to diversify from growing only coffee.
Fruandes, a Level Ground partner cooperative in Colombia, launched its operation in 2002, creating jobs for marginalized women and reinvigorating the local economy when coffee prices crashed. Fruandes workers benefit from fair trade by receiving a better wage, vocational training, micro-credit loans, and enhanced education and health care for their children.
A focus of the company has been to recruit women who are heads of households and/or who live in slum or ghetto neighbourhoods, thus offering them and their children a better, safer life. The company has grown in a decade to employ thirty people. Fruit destined for drying is hand-picked when fully ripe. The purchase of a large fruit dehydrator enabled the hiring of six women.
In Canada, it is still not easy to find abundant fair trade fresh fruit outside the larger metropolitan areas, such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. And supplies of the dried fruit still don’t meet demand. A recent conversation amongst retailers in Manitoba allowed for the expression of shared frustrations.
But the “fair trade industry” is maturing. Many of us never thought that it would become mainstream so quickly. In this particular case, it is the fruits of our labour on behalf of fairer conditions for Third World producers.