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Fair Trade First Hand

Posted on October 18, 2013 8:44 AM by Amy Lipsitz

Our Director of Sales, Allyson Myers, travelled to the Dominican Republic with Fair Trade USA this week for the World Cocoa Foundation meeting. On her trip she attended a Fair Trade Farm Tour and saw firsthand how fair trade dollars impact cocoa communities.  

Does Fair Trade really make an impact in the lives of farmers?

YES!  Before I saw the results of Fair Trade efforts firsthand in the Dominican Republic, I wasn’t sure how much (or little) impact fair trade really had. The Fair Trade price premiums are paid to the farmer cooperative, not to the individual farmers. Then the cooperative board solicits proposals from the coop farmers (10,000 of them in total!) and considers different ways to spend the fair trade premiums at year end.  The value of the fair trade premiums for a year is $1-2 million annually for the Conocado Coop, which has a huge impact on the community. 

I visited a school in near the Conocado Coop that previously didn’t have adequate space for 300 students and the roof leaked when it rained.  With Fair Trade premium dollars, the community was able to build additional classrooms and reinvest in their community by educating the youth.

I also visited a Mulit-Use Community Center and Computer Center that were built with Fair Trade premium dollars.  The computer center gives children a place to learn and use technology.  Classes are held in the mornings and afternoons, with different children attending each session. The building also included a central multi-purpose room where the coop and community members come together for meetings and functions.

Cocoa growing regions are far from Vermont. What do Vermont & the DR have in common?

Both VT and the DR have strong agriculture roots and communities.  Encouraging young people to stay in farming is a challenge; the pay is low and the work is hard.  The Agriculture Ministry of the DR is working hard to make cocoa farming an attractive livelihood and encourage youth to get into farming.  We seesimilar efforts here in our state, trying to retain young people after graduation. Both Vermont and the DR have strong dairy industries and just as many of

Vermont’s dairy farms are organized into coops so are many of the DR’s cocoa farms.

Does Fair Trade do enough to transform the challenges facing our industry?

No, while Fair Trade makes an impactful difference with price premiums and fair labor practices, there is still much more work to be done in order to alleviate poverty.   I visited with a farm family at their home and asked them, “How much more income would you need in order to make farming attractive to your children, rather than them choosing other occupations in the cities?”  They told me that they would need about double the current income they receive. Food insecurity, education, fair wages, and fair labor practices all must be addressed.   Erradicating poverty is a slow process and Fair Trade demonstrates that measurable results are possible.

Fair Trade dollars are making huge impacts in cocoa communities and beyond but there is still work to be done! Spread the word about fair trade via #befair and prove how fair you are here: http://befair.org/