For me, meeting a farmer was the moment ‘fair trade’ shifted from being a great concept to a genuinely transformational movement.
I’ve been aware of fair trade for over twenty years, and my personal commitment to buying fair trade where I could – and encouraging others to do the same – began long before I became part of the team at Just Fair Trade a little over three years ago.
But when I found myself sitting at a dining table with Howard Chiko Msukwa, a Malawian rice farmer, the penny dropped in a new way. A growing part of my role at Just involves helping individuals and groups to understand the opportunity fair trade offers farmers and other producers in the developing world, enabling them to support their families, invest in their communities and plan for the future. But this was the first opportunity I’d had to put a name and a face to that transformational model.
Howard was accompanied by John Riches, founded of the Balmore Trust and its commercial arm, Just Trading Scotland, and in partnership with Leicester City Council’s Environmental Education Co-ordinator, Lee Jowett, we’d arranged for them to be in Leicester for forty-eight hours, visiting two primary schools and speaking at an evening event at Just Fair Trade.
Both Sandfield Close and Avenue Primaries are schools with a growing and enthusiastic commitment to both fair trade and wider environmental issues. Although we’d only had a short time in which to organise the day, both schools had taken the opportunity to root the visit in familiar fair trade messages, and Avenue had even taken a whole morning to investigate life in Malawi! So they were able to take full advantage of the opportunity to meet with a farmer face-to-face.
The children listened really well to both Howard and John and asked pertinent and insightful questions. Whilst chatting to the children informally I got a real sense that they understood many of the basic principles behind fair trade which gives me a little hope that as over time these ten-year-olds develop a deeper understanding of the world in which they live, they’ll be able to translate this understanding into a refusal to collude with the damaging and exploitative economic system we live within.
Chatting to the teachers gave me the opportunity to begin to reflect on how Just Fair Trade might better support schools to develop an awareness of fair trade and its positive impact on global communities and I’m really looking forward to working more closely with Avenue, Sandfield Close and Lee Jowett to explore what this support might look like.
At the end of the school day, Howard, John, Lee and I decamped back to Just to prepare for the evening. We’ve already had a couple of special events at the shop this year, but this one seemed to have piqued people’s interest in a new way! We served Malawi coffee on arrival and created space for people to explore the shop before introducing Howard and John and letting them loose to inspire the crowds! It was literally standing room only (for which we apologise to those without chairs!) but despite the discomfort there was a tangible sense of support and enthusiasm for both men and their stories.
Thanks to the generosity of Traidcraft, Liberation Nuts and Meet The People tours, we were able to send the crowds home with a goodie bag bulging with coffee, nuts and chocolate! The perfect way to end an inspiring (and tiring!) day.
Click the links to read more about Howard and the 90kg Rice Challenge.
Louise is Just Fair Trade’s development manager