Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Fairtrade Africa Forum by Toby Quantrill

Fairtrade Foundation's Head of Policy, Toby Qunatrill, blogs from the first ever Fairtrade Africa Forum.

Over the last three days I have been lucky enough to participate in a unique event – the first ever Fairtrade Africa Forum.

Members of the Fair Trade movement in Africa, including producers, policy makers, development partners and campaigners have gathered at the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe for four days of discussion on the best way to develop the Fairtrade system in Africa.

There have fascinating presentations and discussions on issues such as creating a market for Fairtrade in Africa, empowerment, and climate change. But these events are as much about the opportunity to meet and talk outside the main meeting and I have been able to learn from representatives of cotton farmers from Burkina Faso, cocoa farmers from Ghana, fruit producers from Egypt, flower producers from Kenya and tea farmers from Malawi amongst many, many others.

And I have been able to witness the discussions that have taken place between these representatives, the connections being made and the exchange of lessons and experience.

It really has felt like witnessing the development of a unique movement first hand.

Because the last year has seen extraordinary progress in the development of Fairtrade Africa, the network of Fairtrade producers in Africa. With support from Fairtrade organizations in Europe and donors such as Comic Relief, Fairtrade Africa has built a strong team, with regional bases in West, South and Eastern Africa, and is now playing an increasingly influential role in the global development of Fairtrade.  In the last year Fairtrade Africa led the development of standards for new products (Marula and Baobab) in response to requests from producers and has also developed strategic relationships with other organizations such as VSO and the Dutch development agency to help provide increasing on-the-ground support to producers.

The producer networks are co-owners of FLO, and Fairtrade Africa has representative places on the boards of both the Global and UK Fairtrade certification bodies. But, as one participant in the forum noted, for producers on the ground Fairtrade only becomes real through audit inspections and the use of premium payments. It does not always feel like something that producers own and control.

But what emerged from these, often lively discussions, more than anything, is a desire to make Fairtrade in Africa an African system, led and owned by Africans, in terms of standards, new products and, perhaps most importantly making this a movement of both producers and consumers in Africa. In South Africa there are already 15 Fairtrade labelled products on the shelf, most of these launched in the last year and there is now the opportunity for shoppers in Kenya to buy African coffee.

Fairtrade is too often perceived as a western driven indulgence – but what has come through in this meeting has been the commitment of Africans to the principles and a burning desire to create a Fairtrade system, in Africa, that is uniquely African.