Fairtrade and Local Produce

As understanding and concern around climate change grows, more and more of us are increasingly looking for ways we can reduce the negative impact of our behaviours on the environment. This has given rise to debates where local produce and Fairtrade may be pitted against each other, but Fairtrade and local produce can lie side by side in an environmentalist’s shopping basket.


If one is to buy products such as tea, coffee and bananas that can only be grown in developing countries it makes sense to buy Fairtrade products. The Fairtrade Foundation’s discussion paper Egalité, Fraternité, Sustainabilité: why the climate revolution must be a fair revolution clearly demonstrates how supporting Fairtrade can support a fair global response to climate change. In some cases fewer carbon emissions actually result from growing and transporting Fairtrade products than local. In terms of carbon emissions per kg of food transported, container ships are a very efficient method of transport - such that the ocean miles only make up a very small part of the product’s total carbon footprint. There are more than 4,500 Fairtrade certified products in the UK alone, and with just one exception all of these products come to the UK by container ship.  The one exception is Fairtrade flowers grown and flown over from Kenya, but even in this case they require less energy than from those grown in European heated greenhouses. Another example is the carbon footprint for Tate and Lyle’s Fairtrade cane sugar, which is estimated at 380gm carbon per kg sugar, whereas Silver Spoon’s sugar extracted from European sugar beet is far greater at 500gm per kg; a 32% increase on the amount of carbon emitted per kg sugar.


In Belgium and Canada a sixth goal has been added to the basic five criteria required to become a Fairtrade Town. This additional goal is aimed at encouraging support for local and sustainable produce. Future Fair Trade Town initiatives will be launched in the European New Member States of Poland and the Czech Republic, where due to the problems associated with rural development in these countries, a similar sixth goal on local produce is likely to be adopted. Although support for local produce is not included amongst the Fairtrade Town criteria in the UK, sometimes the wording of the resolution required to meet Goal 1 includes support for local produce as well as Fairtrade.


Fairtrade Town groups in the UK and Germany have successfully combined the two issues in their campaigns. Indeed the meal that took place in Garstang during Fairtrade Fortnight 2000, which led to the launch of Fairtrade Towns worldwide, was made up entirely of Fairtrade and local produce. Much of the local produce was freely donated by local farmers. The rural market town of Garstang has continued to marry the two issues at every possible opportunity. In 2002 students from the local Myerscough Agricultural College took part in a debate to answer the question “Garstang and Ghana – why do their farmers get a raw deal?”  At the event testimonies were heard from local farmers, cocoa and banana farmers from Ghana, the local MP, the Fairtrade Foundation, the Farmers World Network, the Co-op and Nestle. Likewise in Germany, their first Fairtrade Town, Saarbrücken try to promote “Bio, regional, fair” (organic, local and fair trade) whenever possible. Back in the UK, Fairtrade Town campaigns such as Linlithgow and Keynsham bring a Fairtrade element to their local Farmers Markets and the Fairtrade Group in Wrexham produced a recipe booklet to demonstrate how local and fair trade can sit happily together on the meal table.


It is not only in the rural areas however, where Fairtrade has been linked to local produce. The UK based Fairtrade Association Birmingham (FAB) campaigned on local produce long before Birmingham became a Fairtrade City in November 2005. Following the call in 2002 for the FAIRTRADE Mark to be adapted for use on British produce the Fair Deal Awards were organised by the not-for-profit think tank Localise West Midlands. Fair Deal Awards are given to buyers who have been nominated by local farmers for paying them a fair price. Discussions in Germany have also resulted in local dairy farmers demanding a “fair price for milk”, because the price presently paid barely covers the cost of production.


The Welsh and Scottish Fair Trade Forums formed an alliance with their corresponding Farmer’s Unions to collectively call for a fair deal for food producers, whether local or in the developing world. The Wales Fair Trade Forum produced information leaflets specifically explaining the reasons to support both campaigns. Jim McLaren, NFU Scotland President, said: “At first, Fairtrade and Scottish farming might seem unlikely bedfellows since Fairtrade is generally associated with the developing world. In reality however, NFU Scotland and the Scottish Fair Trade Forum share key common values. We both work to ensure food is produced in a manner that promotes and enhances the sustainability of agriculture and the wellbeing of families who rely on it. We both want a ‘Fair Deal’ for producers, whether for farmers in Scotland or in places like Malawi”. John McAllion, Chair of the Scottish Fair Trade Forum, adds: “There need be no conflict between buying Fairtrade and buying local produce. Buy local meat, potatoes and dairy products to support your local economy and buy quality Fairtrade coffee, tea and other products that can’t be grown locally to help Fairtrade producers in the developing world get a fair deal”.


Another question to ask is just what do we mean by ‘buying local’. This should not be confused with patriotism. Transporting apples from France to the South East corner of Britain for example, will result in fewer carbon emissions and is more geographically local than if consumers there were to buy apples from the South West of England. Buying local is often driven by our increasing concern over food quality, its provenance and the need to ‘trust’ the food we buy. It is this same concern that helps to drive Fairtrade. While it is possible to go to a Farmers market, meet the farmer and hear more about where our food comes from, this is not possible with internationally traded products. Fairtrade however, does go some way to providing that same connection with producers, reducing the power of middle men and enabling greater trust in the consumer.


We need to explore our reasoning for supporting local produce and for that we need to carefully define just what we mean by ‘local’. Perhaps we should be asking what is local and sustainable? What is local alone is not enough. Food miles are typically only a very small proportion of the total carbon footprint of the product. Even taking just the transport part: there’s more energy used (per kg of food) in the last six shopping-bag miles than in 6000 ocean-container miles. It is estimated that on average in the UK, 87% of transport’s carbon costs for a product arise after the product has arrived in the country.  Max Havelaar Belgium have defined the criteria for sustainable consumption of local products (not Fairtrade) into the following four categories (the four P’s):

-      Product: consumption according to the season, organic, locally produced, less meat, little packaging, cooking with basic ingredients (not processed or pre-cooked) and GM free.

-      Price: fair trade, a realistic price for producers in our regions, a reasonable salary for every actor in the supply chain

-      Place: buying large amounts once a week in the supermarket, buying at the farm, system of subscription to weekly fruit and vegetable packages

-      Promotion/information: close contact with farmers, information about producer and the supply chain.


One simple point to finish on: by definition buying local means keeping your money in the local economy which may make sense, but remember if you spend money in your own locality and that locality is rich (relatively) it will only tend to further  widen the world’s rich-poor divide.

Fairtrade and local produce can lie side by side in an environmentalist's shopping basket!