Trade fair, gain more

Updated: Mar 26 2006, 05:30am hrs
Sabubhai Parmar is a cotton farmer in Gujarat. Living on one of the most arid lands of the world, he faces water scarcity and degradation of soil in every crop season. The continuous drop in water levels and loss of soil nutrients made him think. There was an urgency to build a rainwater harvesting system, which again required funds. Having done that, looking back it seems more difficult than it was, he says.

Farmers like Parmar are part of the examples cited by Fairtrade Foundation. Fairtrade is a certification mark of Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International, of which the Fairtrade Foundation is UK member. The farmers, hailing from developing nations, have shown the inclination and zeal to come out of poverty and pursue sustainable livelihood.

The results shown by the recently concluded Fairtrade Fortnight (held from March 6 to 19) have created another milestone. The sales of products with the Fairtrade Mark are now stand at f200 million a year. Over 1,500 Fairtrade products are now available. The 301 producer groups come from Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia. Companies are making major announcements about furthering their commitment to Fairtrade, including Marks & Spencer, which is now getting all its tea and coffee business Fairtrade certified. Other major retailers that are part of the movement include Co-op, Tesco, Asda and Waitrose.

Farming under the Fairtrade system not only gets the producers a good price and premium for their crops due to a single window approach without any middlemen, but also guidance on issues linked to soil, besides knowledge in water analysis and natural fertilisers. For 500,000 workers and farmers in the developing world, Fairtrade means better terms of trade and decent production conditions, say company officials.

The organisation promotes organic farming, helping the soil maintain its nutrient value, resulting in long-term value for the land and farmer. The Indian partners with Fairtrade, Shell Foundation and Agrocel, made this happen by convincing the producers to join in. It is the first project of the Shell Foundation with the cotton farmers. A three-year project, Straight from the Cotton Fields, was started in 2002 in partnership with Agrocel, a farmers body. The objective of the programme was to create economically, environmentally and socially sustainable livelihoods for small-hold cotton farmers in Bhuj, Gujarat. The farmers were given seeds, technical support, training and guaranteed buy option.

We paid for the organic and fair trade certification, capacity building and training of farmers and Agrocels business skills, and sourcing global customers for the produce, says Anuradha Bhavnani, advisor, Shell Foundation, India.

Hasmukh Patel, general manager, Agrocel, is quite upbeat. His men are always on the move exhibiting organic cotton produce worldwide to bag more orders. We are doing good businesseven abroad, he says proudly.

Katie Stafford, sustainable development manager, M&S, however sees the whole exercise as an interesting journey. Gossypium, a pioneering ethical clothing company in UK, introduced us to Agrocel. We are also planning to source more cotton from Gujarat for Fairtrade cotton suit shirts for men and baby wear, which will be sold in our stores from this autumn. For this, we have already bought seven times more cotton from the farmers, says Stafford.

For the exercise, M&S has invested time and resources to go further down its supply chain than it would do normally. Like most other retailers, we tend to only deal with our garment manufacturers, but in this case we have gone right back to work at the supply chain level and most importantly the farmers. We have visited them on several occasions and given support and advice on what volumes, quality service we need, which we hope has helped to strengthen their business.