Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fair's fair for everyone

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, if we are feeling the pinch, you can bet someone who grows crops on a smallholding several thousand miles away is being hit far harder.

The next two weeks are set aside as Fairtrade Fortnight, but buying coffee, bananas or tea with the Fairtrade mark isn't just about 'doing your bit' and feeling good about buying 'the right thing'.

There's a bigger picture, too.

The Fairtrade Foundation points out that the smallholders like Conrad James, pictured above, from St Lucia, could actually teach the rest of the world a thing or two about solving the food crisis and tackling poverty.

In villages like Conrad's, smallholders are often at the centre of community action and feeling. It's a very different scenario to bigger farms, where low-quality crops are sold straight from the field to impersonal middlemen and on to the West for a criminally low price.

In smaller-scale Fairtrade cooperatives, from Caribbean banana producers to Rwandan coffee growers, local people have more secure jobs and, if the crop (eg coffee) starts being processed on-site, the chance to learn different skills.

Small-scale cooperatives are also known for being innovative farmers. They want to know how to do things better, make things taste better. They have a vested interest in constantly researching new ways to improve productivity, such as making organic compost, or to add value, such as roasting coffee beans using traditional techniques.

Small organic farms have the power to turn around the economic fortunes of a village or an area, which then slowly spreads to more children going to school and more small businesses and shops springing up.

It's a model of economic revival that, with the right support, could have a worldwide knock-on effect. And these smallholders aren't small fry: some 450 million farming households cultivate two hectares or less, and with their families they make up a third of the world's population.

They count, and what they stand for counts, too.

Buying thoughfully benefits everyone, including ourselves. And it doesn't stop at bananas.

That's why I love the stuff at www.ecohip.org.

Steve and Gabrielle, the couple behind the site, have thought carefully about what they select: everything there, from shampoos to tea, is from small companies that care, too.

They are organic, eco-friendly and as close to nature as you can get.

Shame they don't sell bananas, too...

Photograph: Simon Rawles/Fairtrade
Visit www.fairtrade.org.uk for more on Fairtrade Fortnight

Monday, February 9, 2009

Cut off

It's official: snow has the power to bring the country to its knees.
Last Monday, like many people, I couldn't make it in to the office. No trains, full stop.

The kids headed for the park with sledges; I headed for the computer for some remote working.
A few hours later, a rogue piece of spyware sneaked in and hijacked my screen - which promptly went blank.
And stayed that way for the rest of the week.

The next day, the roads were clearer, but disaster number two struck. For the first time ever, our boringly reliable car wouldn't start.
I felt like I was undergoing a modern-day Luddite experience: no computer, no car, pavements still skiddy and icy so couldn't venture too far too fast.
Everything was being stripped back. After a while I just gave in to fate, and it was oddly comforting. No emails, no urge to Google useless websites, no deadlines to worry about.

It reminded me of powercuts when I was living abroad a few years ago. In the Pacific country where I spent three years as a teacher, 'blackouts' were regular occurance, especially during tropical storms.
Again, you'd suddenly be left with no computer, no lights, no TV, no CDs.

Plenty of candles and books, though. And the Guardian Weekly crossword, which could keep us going for days.
Returning to the West's full-on barrage of multimedia sensory overload, our candlelit crossword sessions seem quaint and a little antiquated. But they served a purpose at the time.
And they were a reminder that, sometimes, less is more. Simple can be good. If you've got less, less can go wrong.

This week, the computer is repaired. The car is fixed. But it's got me thinking about scaling back - not just economically but in terms of what we accumulate, sometimes without even thinking about it.
These days, there's all the more reason for making meaningful, informed choices about what we buy for ourselves and our homes.
That's why I love Ecohip's pages (www.ecohip.org): it's all good, useful stuff that you can buy with a clear conscience. Some things are fun, but not frivolous. I'd prefer to spend a tenner on something gorgeous and ecologically sound from there than run-of-the mill stuff from Boots.
I guess being back online isn't such a bad thing after all...

picture: http://www.freeimages.co.uk/

AddThis Social Bookmark Button