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The following post is offered by Nicholas Reid, Sales Representative of the Natural Foods Department at Equal Exchange. His original comments were published in response to a post on GreenLAGirl’s blog about the Business Week article, “Is Fair Trade Becoming ‘Fair Trade Lite’?”.

At Equal Exchange we feel strongly that small-scale sustainable farming is the most effective way to feed the planet, care for the environment, and sustain healthy and vibrant communities and businesses. We believe that small farmer co-operatives provide a model for participatory decision-making, local control, and economic development that is desperately needed to fix a broken food system and an ailing planet.

In this blog, we have tried to make our case by highlighting inspiring stories from our farmer co-op partners and referencing articles written about the importance of agroecology, organic farming, and consumer and farmer movements that are trying to make changes to agricultural and trade policies that serve no one but large scale agribusiness. We have deliberately tried not to focus too much on the debate around plantations, or the competition between different coffee roasters. Nevertheless, I wanted to share Nick’s observations as I thought he did a great job of highlighting some of the history of plantations and the reasons why we choose to focus our work, and continue to build strong relationships, with small farmer organizations in the Fair Trade system.

Fair Trade as a Tool For Transformation: Can plantations play that role?

by Nicholas Reid

For years now, folks have been questioning whether the Fair Trade certifiers should have allowed plantations into a system which was founded by and for small farmer co-operatives. One of the arguments put forth to justify the entry of plantations into the system is that there are many products (such as bananas and tea) which are primarily produced by plantations and therefore are not possible to source from small farmer co-operatives. This is a false premise. The majority of bananas and tea ARE produced by small farmers. More importantly, by allowing plantations into the Fair Trade system, the certifiers are ensuring that products produced by small farmer co-operatives will never thrive in the Fair Trade system.

I would buy the argument that the majority of the world’s tea, bananas and cocoa for export are grown by plantations and large-scale agriculture. But seriously, Fair Trade exists to support small farmers because plantations dominate banana and tea production for export. It aims to create the systems that would allow small farmers to benefit from exporting those products. (more…)

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