How can we make food fairer for all in 2013?

21 Dec 2012 17:07

Mike Gidney, the recently appointed Executive Director of the Fairtrade Foundation says 2013 could be a game-changing year in food. 

The UK is hosting the G8 Summit for the first time since 2005 and the Prime Minister has identified three priorities for the talks: advancing trade, ensuring tax compliance and promoting greater transparency.

The fact that he is putting trade first is an important milestone. International trade has been off the political agenda for too long and the problems are far from solved. This is an opportunity for global leadership to make sure that trade really does work for development, that the needs of poorer countries are prioritised not marginalized, and that the empty rhetoric of the WTO Doha Round is a thing of the past.

The week before the G8 the UK government will host a summit on food and nutrition. There is growing consensus that we face a crisis in our food system and that major shifts will be needed in activity and attitude. There are serious threats to the sustainability of some of our most important global agricultural commodities – particularly coffee and cocoa, but also sugar and tea. An unsustainable food system affects us all, but none more so than farmers and workers in developing countries who have to tackle a triple whammy of global economic downturn, the impact of climate change and a long history of poor prices and under-investment in their farms. Unless the major players in these commodities actively invest in sustainable supply chains and balance their social and environmental as well as their economic performance, there is a very real risk of supply shortages on the horizon in some of the everyday food categories we all take for granted.

A 2006 UN report on global hunger calculated that half of the world’s hungry were actually farmers, struggling to feed their families or make a decent living because they are not paid fairly for growing the food we use every day.  In Malawi, for example, small-scale farmers produce sugar in the arid south of the country.  There, 85% of families run out of food at some point in the year. In north-east Brazil, sugar cane cutters have the lowest life expectancy and their children the highest mortality of any group in Brazil.

The fact that so many hungry people are themselves food producers shows just how out of balance our global food system has become.  This is of course morally and ethically unacceptable but it also presents real practical challenges to the future of our food system; challenges that will need changes from all of us – farmers, the public (both as shoppers and voters) and companies as well as governments. So, as I take up my new role as CEO of the Fairtrade Foundation, I have been reflecting on how we, too, must change.

Fairtrade has made real gains in the last few years, bringing lasting benefits to more than 1.25 million producers in over 60 developing countries. That is a great start, but it is not enough. We need to step up the pace.  Over the next few years we will be focusing in particular on smallholders, seeking to unlock the power of the many millions of small-scale farmers around the world who grow the products that we all take for granted on a daily basis for many of our basic needs. 

We need to reach more farmers and workers in ways that matter to them. That will mean we need to keep the Fairtrade model under constant review, to ensure that it remains relevant to producers in today’s volatile climate. We need to identify the circumstances under which Fairtrade can be truly dynamic, which producers can use as a springboard to a stronger future. Producers like the Iriaini Tea Smallholders in Kenya, who have used the confidence that Fairtrade has given them to move up the value chain by developing their own packing facility and to start selling their tea locally as part of an exciting new move to launch Fairtrade to the domestic market in Kenya.

In 2013 we are asking everyone to Go Further For Fairtrade. This will be the message during Fairtrade Fortnight (25 Feb – 10 March, visit for more information). In particular we will be focusing on food and the crucial role of smallholders, so that, together we really can make food fairer for all in 2013.

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