TOPICS : Fair trade labels ensure benefits for all

Organic farmers in Kandy, this hilly, central region of Sri Lanka are convinced that they have a simple fair trade model that could be replicated in other parts of the world. “What we have created is the most sustainable model of fair trade and organic food in the world,” insists Sarath Ranaweera, founder of the Small Organic Farmers Association (SOFA).

‘Fair trade’ international trading partnerships help disadvantaged producers, farmers and farmers’ societies to get better prices for their products, while ensuring quality and environment-friendly products. They bring suppliers (farmers/producers), traders (exporters and retailers) and consumers together in an equitable partnership where the consumer pays a premium for the product and part of the premium goes back to the farmer/producer for his social welfare and uplift.

Last month SOFA received a fillip when the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO), a leading standard setting and certification organisation approved it as a model of good practices. “SOFA is a great model that we could use to replicate in the rest of the world,” said Christophe Alliot, deputy director of France’s Max Havelaar, the French member of FLO, after a field visit.

Products that carry the fairtrade certification guarantee that producers in the developing world get a better deal, according to Alliot. Alliot and two of his colleagues from FLO partners in New Zealand and Britain were in Sri Lanka attending a two-day meeting of the NAP (Network of Asian Producers), a grouping formed two years ago under the FLO umbrella to provide a voice for Asian producers. During the Sri Lankan visit, the FLO team decided to visit Ranaweera’s project in the hills and was astounded with the model. “It is quite amazing how these farmers have combined biodiversity and organic food production,” said Alliot in the backdrop of efforts by FLO to look for a sustainable model that would convince doubtful consumers that producers are benefiting from premium price.

“Fairtrade wants to use our model as the organisation is under attack in the rest of the world. I am constantly being asked to speak to consumers on how fair trade benefits farmers. Consumers, at international gatherings, ask us to show proof that the money (premium) is actually going to producers,” said Ranaweera.

SOFA members pay a subscription of Rs 10 per month for the upkeep of the organisation, and this revenue plus the per kilo premium it gets from Fairtrade labelling, help to develop the farmers and their community. FLO International was launched in 1997 to set standards and to support, inspect, certify disadvantaged producers and harmonise Fairtrade message. There are over 20 labelling initiatives — all members of FLO International.

There are now Fairtrade certification labels on dozens of products based on FLO’s certification for coffee, tea, rice, bananas, mangoes, cocoa, cotton, sugar, honey, fruit juices, nuts, fresh fruit, quinoa, herbs, spices and wine. — IPS