Thursday, September 15, 2011

Coffee vs Cocaine: An Argument for Fair Trade

by Michael Cebon

The World Fair Trade Organization – the peak body for Fair trade organisations including producer cooperatives and associations, export marketing companies, importers, retailers, national and regional  networks – has recently released this powerful short film/ad which argues that the “drug war” taking place on streets around the world is largely the result of farmers not being paid enough for conventional crops, and as a result, switching to more lucrative drugs.
Over the last 15 or so years (and going back to the collapse of the international commodities agreements in the 1980s), WTO, bilateral and regional free trade agreements have brought down the barriers to subsidised US & EU produce in most of the world’s nations.  The effect has been to progressively driven down the price of legal commodities in most countries, and force farmers into debt and off their land, as they find their own produce unable to compete with the cheap imports.
How many have reacted to this situation by switching to drug crops like coca for cocaine?  Seems a pretty logical choice, from their perspective.
One answer (the one proposed in the film) is to buy fair trade products, and support fair prices for the few million farmers who are certified to produce Fair Trade commoditeis.
Another – more serious – answer would be to push governments to re-negotiate international agreements to ensure that the prices of (legal) commodities support the billions of farmers around the world who grow them. (About 50% of the world’s population currentlyt depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.)

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