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Change today, choose fairtrade

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“CHANGE TODAY, CHOOSE FAIRTRADE” is the theme of the annual fair-trade fortnight celebrations which kicked off with a big bang this week in the United Kingdom, the market for the Windward Islands Fairtrade bananas. Over the two-week period, over 10,000 events will be held in towns, villages, community centres, schools and churches all over Britain to celebrate the blossoming of what was once only an idea and its fantastic growth into a blooming reality.{{more}}

The wide range of events and its geographical spread reflects the extent to which Fairtrade has become rooted in British society. Today over 4000 churches, more than 320 towns, 37 synagogues, 60 universities and the latest addition, schools, have branded themselves with the fair-trade label, meaning that they are committed to promoting the concept. The proof is in the pudding, as the saying goes. Just reflect on these facts:

1. Last year British consumers sent more than EC$ 2 billion on fair trade products, a whopping 81 per cent increase over 2006. Since 2002, the average rate of FT growth has been 40%. (Talk about rate in China, check fair-trade growth!)

2. Not only is the rate of growth a fantastic one, but so too is the level of recognition. Surveys have revealed that three out of every five persons in the UK now recognize the Fairtrade Mark, 9 out of 10 people have heard of Fairtrade and 65 per cent of people in the UK believe that Fairtrade products should be available in restaurants and cafes as well as supermarkets and shops.

3. Fairtrade has become mainstream with its range of more than 3000 certified products available not just in big supermarkets (TESCO, SAINSBURY’s, ASDA, CO-OP etc) but in other big retail chain as well. Following on the success with coffee, tea and hot chocolate (over 8 million hot drinks, Fairtrade, sold daily), Tate and Lyle is now switching its own retail sugar to Fair-trade, bringing benefits to over 6,000 cane farmers in Belize. And for Valentine’s Day, this year, there were Fairtrade bouquets from Kenya.

4. High Street fashion stores in the UK – Harrods, Debenhams, NEXT, Marks & Spencers, House of Fraser among them, now stock ranges in clothes under the Fair-trade label.

5. British consumers now have a choice of over 100 brands of fair-trade wines. And, check this! Churchgoers are not to be left out; they are singing the praises of the new POTERIAN FAIRTRADE COMMUNION WINE!

Bananas, Fairtrade bananas, are holding their own among this. One out of every 4 bananas consumed today in the UK carries the fair-trade label. Fairtrade banana sales in 2007 in that country totaled over EC$700 million. Almost ninety per cent of the bananas from the Windwards sold today in the UK are Fair Trade bananas with over 3300 farmers and their families benefiting from the trade. Indeed, it is Fairtrade which has saved the banana industry in the islands.

Given the continued difficulties in international trading, regulations, the Fairtrade option is the only viable one for us in the banana trade to the UK. Moreover, with such a growth pattern, not only should we have already become fully banana fair-trade compliant but we should be exploring the markets for other products as well under that label. The mechanisms and opportunities are already there. This is the reality which confronts us in 2008 and which dictates that we too, CHANGE TODAY.

In the banana industry that change can only be effected by completing the restructuring process that ALL the islands and ALL the stakeholders have committed themselves to since the turn of the century. Yet for all kinds of reasons – self-interest, greed, political partisanship, position-craving, and yes, downright ignorance played upon by crass opportunists, the Windwards have not succeeded in completing the process. We sit and quarrel among ourselves on non-issues and miss the wider picture. If we continue in this vein, we will miss the boat as well.

In every one of the islands there are those who continue to oppose progressive and democratic change. The parasites in the system not only want to cling to their own source of succour but to mislead the genuinely confuse. The stark reality is that we can pussyfoot no more, not in bananas, not in agriculture, not in national development. The transformation must be completed. Beginning with bananas, the CHANGE that is necessary is for us to choose fair-trade and then use it as a basis to widen our agro-economic development. Those who are blind in one eye and can’t see out of the other must not be allowed to block progress. The choice is ours!

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