Journey in the Fair Trade

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Passing by a display window of a Fair Trade shop, one could perceive it like a sale of exotic objects: this prejudice – that derives from lack of knowledge – makes some people avoid them; avoidance that could be extended to the world-wide fair trade market.

I need to specify that those shops do not sell pseudo-medicine or substances obtained from endangered animals like ivory, rhino horn powder, pieces of turtles, shark fins, tiger fat unguents or anything manufactured in a way that’s absolutely contrary biodiversity conservation.

Mr Oljmpio Bernardini, volunteer in “Bottega del Mondo di Tolentino”, disclosed with us some less known aspects of the fair trade, in order to discredit the prejudices.

The most common products are food and ethnic handicrafts made for daily usage.

There are baskets made of natural fiber of several sizes and purposes, dinnerware sets made of china and glass, photo albums and picture frames, musical instruments, small ornaments made of wood or natural stone. Also some small handcrafted ethnic jewelry. As for clothing and furniture, you can find sweaters made of cotton and alpaca, carpets made of natural cotton and table cloths for your house.

A specialty of these shops are party favours: they have an extensive and many people prefer them for their fair and ethical content.

An other field on which they have relied for the last few years is cosmetics and detergents for personal and domestic use. While cosmetics come from projects for developing countries, like argan and jojoba oil, shea butter and natural henna, for detergents we need to open a new parenthesis.

“Mondo Solidale”, a fair trade cooperative from the Italian region of Marche, has developed a project in collaboration with a cooperative of Brazilian women, who grow a particular variety of coconut, called Babassu, from which they extract vegetable oils that will be then processed in Italy. Apart from making excellent anallergic products for personal care, they manifacture also cleaning products for the house, for laundry and washing up liquid. Detergents are sold loose, without packaging, contributing to the reduction of plastic refusals. They have been selling loose products for at least eight years, this chain store is pioneer in the field.

The idea at the foundation of this type of trade is respect for the producer, who has the guarantee of a fair remuneration, often in advance.

They purchase from small producers, promoting and organising their cooperation and development; every product comes from a specific project: a reality that they are trying to support.

Fair trade overcomes the idea of charity gift in order to start a fair collaboration with the producers. They don’t strangle small farmers buying from them for market price – which is often too tight – as multinationals do when buying outside their plantations.

They focus on organic farming and many products are certified by qualified third parties. Many products and objects come from over one hundred countries, that aren’t commonly known to be producers.

Chocolate is made exclusively with cane sugar; some spreads are produced without adding vegetables oils (palm), without gluten or lactose.

Tea and infusions come from Sri Lanka, India or Africa (Tanzania) and are are almost all of organic varieties, some of which are flavoured with natural aromas. There is a wide range of infusions, that can satisfy the requirements of all the clients. They come from Asia with ingredients from Italy, Europe and Near East.

Hibiscus tea, made of hibiscus flowers and well known during the embargo, comes from central Kenya. It is the result of a project carried out by an NGO from Padova and the parish of Meru, together with hundreds of manufacturers families.

Their top quality rice comes from Indonesia, India and Thailand. Those areas produce the best varieties in the world, precious and rare varieties such as Thai, Basmati, red, black and Java pink rice. Black rice used to be so rare that only the emperor was allowed to have it. Almost all of them are farmed in very high altitude areas (4,000 m).

Coffee,together with cocoa, was the first product to be sold in the fair trade system. The variety farmed at 1,500 m altitude, in the underbrush near the Guatemalan village of El Bosque, gave the chance to about 50 small farmers to develop their own processes before sending it to the roasting phase. An organic variety of Arabica comes from Ethiopia, others from Mexico and Uganda.

Jams in some cases are made with tropical fruit like the mango, papaya (from Kenya) lime, pineapple and passion-flower; blueberry and raspberry organic jams come from Bosnia.

A wide range of spices come from Sri Lanka, Morocco, Palestine and Kenya, they are particularly fresh, have a remarkable fragrance and a short expiry date. There is great demand for milled yellow turmeric for its antioxidant and antitumor properties.

Cane sugar, often raw and organic, is the only sweetener that you can find in any of the products, comes from Ecuador, Paraguay, Mauritius Islands and Philippine.

A cooperative named Alsi started an interesting project on the Peruvian Andes at 4,500 meters of height, that creates top quality products from Alpaca wool. This project allows those 30 families in Aymara to survive in prohibitive conditions: no electric power, bad road conditions and at sun set the weather gets freezing!

Fair trade started between 1965 and 1968 in England and Holland. In Italy it started in Bozen in 1988 with the constitution of the first Italian cooperative called CTM. In the region of Marche it started officially in 1993 with the constitution of the social cooperative “Mondo Solidale”.

All the packagings always indicate the origin, the project, the peculiarities of the product and the production chain; often they indicate also the names of the productions cooperatives.

Another prejudice that we need to discredit is that fair trade supports only third world economies; in reality, except the completely natural products like rice and sugar, great majority of fair trade production is transformed in Italy small companies, creating jobs and wealth.

Moreover, a great part of over 300 Italian shops employs volunteers, for the projects and for different tasks; the regional center is in Chiaravalle and in the region of Marche, there are 17 “Botteghe Mondo Solidale”.

Eno Santecchia

Cortesemente tradotto da Susanna Rastelli.

Maggio 2014

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