Bananas, black sigatoka and business awards

Just a Few of the Topics up for Discussion this Fairtrade Fortnight

Now, just as the dust is beginning to settle back onto our Fairtrade banana costume I wanted to share with you my experiences of Fairtrade Fortnight 2012….

Headline figures supplied by Fairtrade Foundation kicked off my enthusiasm for the 14 days ahead.  According to their stats, the movement has continued to grow despite the economic climate with 42% of all sugar purchased in the UK being Fairtrade, and sales overall reaching £1.3 billion.

As the fortnight progressed these figures were proudly included at most events I attended, but the stories around them varied massively.

In London I heard from Rosemary Kadzitche who spoke of the hard work which goes into harvesting peanuts; meanwhile Sandra Rojas told of the massive $60 increase received through Fairtrade ($50 for the seeds and $10 on top in Fairtrade premium) for a 45kg sack of Sesame seeds.

Tookie Speaking

Banana farmer Tookie spoke of the spread of black Sigatoka, a disease which affects the yield of a banana plant.

A personal highlight was having banana farmer Tookie from the Windward Islands speak in Leighton Buzzard of the challenges his sector faces.  He spoke of the devastation caused by Hurricane Tomas as well as the challenge presented by the spread of black Sigatoka, a disease which affects the yield of a banana plant.  Despite this however, Tookie said the biggest challenge for the farmers was securing the capital they need to ensure the sustainability of their co-operative.

As well as travelling the breadth of the country, I tweeted my way through numerous events from the first Bristol Fairtrade Business Awards to the fifth Witney Fairtrade Fair.  I also attended my first service at St Paul’s Cathedral.  This was a celebration of London becoming a Fairtrade Diocese.  When the Bishop encouraged everyone to shout ‘Fairtrade’ and wave our fair trade flags, it brought a fantastic end to what has been a busy but successful and inspiring fortnight.

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Be the change you want to see

As I embark upon my fourth Fairtrade Fortnight I am as inspired and enthused as ever by the stories and actions of campaigners, producers, fair trade pioneers and all involved in the movement.  This years’ theme of ‘Take a Step’ seems especially appropriate as I do clock up the steps, and train journeys and bus trips, at this time of year.  My journey for Fairtrade this fortnightstarts in my own town with a visit from Anton ‘Tookie’ Bowman, a Fairtrade banana producer from the Windward Islands, to a number of events in London, including the ‘Fair Enough?’ Conference and then, I head west for the first ever Bristol Fairtrade Fortnight Awards.

Last night I attended an event at the Fairtrade Foundation to celebrate the success of Palestinian Olive Oil producers, Zaytoun.

Atif Choudhury opened the evening last night with reference to the first meeting he and his friends, now colleagues at Zaytoun, had with Palestinian olive farmers almost a decade ago.

Realising that the only way to understand what exporting olive oil from Palestine to the UK would mean to the farmers was to ask them directly, they gathered with thirteen farmers and the questions began.  The farmers asked could they guarantee they would be able to bypass the wall? The response was No.  Could they guarantee they could sell the farmers’ oil?  Again, the response was No.  Finally, had they ever actually sold any oil?  No.

Ten of the farmers left the meeting.  Of the three who remained in that room we heard from two last night. Riziq Abu Nasser told us that before they achieved Fairtrade certification for their olive oil they were forced to sell it for $1.5 per kilo, the oil cost more to make than they earned from it.  Now, they are able to sell at $5 per kilo which covers their costs of production and offers a viable income for the farmers and those involved in the production of the oil.  As well as the fairer price they receive the Fairtrade premium has also been put to good use by the communities.  This has been used to support payment of school fees for their children, to buy equipment for the schools and fridges to preserve medical supplies. 

Through fair trade, the farmers take greater care over their trees, preserving them to ensure sustainability as best they can.  They are also now able to offer seedlings to those who want to get involved in production.  Olive trees can take decades to produce useable fruit so the group have formed a series of women’s co-operatives that produce a herb mix known as ‘Za’atar’ which enables them to generate an income after just a few weeks.  What an inspiring start to what I’m sure will be many stories we hear from producers and Fairtrade pioneering organisations over Fairtrade Fortnight. 

The Fortnight is an important time for us at Shared Interest as it gives us a great opportunity to draw attention to the work of that we do.  With all of the events and activities which take place over the fortnight it is often disappointing that I haven’t yet mastered the art of being in more than one place at a time!  However, with the support of our network of volunteers we are able to take the story and message of Shared Interest far and wide.  To find out where we will be over the Fortnight take a look at our events calendar and pop along to say hello if you’re able to, it’s always lovely to hear more stories of your involvement and to share ours.

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Fairtrade in Wales

In 2008, just before my foray into the worlds of fair trade and Shared Interest, my soon to be colleagues were helping Wales celebrate receiving the accolade of the first Fair Trade Nation.  In the four years since then a lot has been happening to build on this success.  We may need to watch this space for fair trade daffodils but there is growing support for the fair trade movement in the home of the red dragon.

I recently returned to Wales on a visit to Cardiff to learn more about current activities and plans as well as to catch up with those I’ve met on previous trips.  My first visit was to the fair trade shop, Fairdo’s, where I met the founder and a few of the army of volunteers who help run the shop.  Eagle eyed, I could quickly spot a number of products on the shelves which came from organisations supported by Shared Interest.  Needless to say due to the timing of my trip the fairly traded Valentine’s cards caught my eye too!

My next appointment was with our Shared Interest Ambassadors in the area to give them an update on our new materials and to learn more about their plans for Shared Interest activity in the area.  They will be kick starting things for 2012 with a stall at the upcoming Olive tasting event on the 7th March at Chapter Arts Centre with Zaytoun and Fairdo’s, see our events calendar for more details.  If you would like to know more about volunteering with Shared Interest in Cardiff or anywhere across the UK please visit our Volunteer pages.

Finally I popped in to visit Fair Trade Wales and hear their plans for Fairtrade Fortnight and beyond.  I also got a sneaky peak at a travel cup from the Fairtrade Foundation which was being frequently topped up with fresh Fairtrade coffee.  Fair Trade Wales have worked hard to build on the support which enabled them to achieve Fair Trade Nation status.  From video links with fair trade producers in Ghana to a growing network of Fairtrade schools to hosting fair trade producers over Fairtrade Fortnight the team there are certainly busy bees and I look forward to working with them, and everyone else I met, in the future.

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National Ethical Investment Week

Last weekend saw the wrapping up of the fourth National Ethical Investment Week (NEIW).  The annual campaign, established by the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF), aims to let individuals know how they can make money and make a difference.  The week forms a significant period of activity for us here at Shared Interest, as encouraging people to invest ethically is at the heart of what we do. UKSIF’s Lisa Wootton described ethical investment as ‘the natural next step’ for those who buy fair trade products and we wholeheartedly agree.

Last Monday as part of NEIW, I participated in the Investing Ethically Conference in London.  The conference was organised by Independent Financial Advisers, Investing Ethically Ltd and brought together a host of organisations offering ethical investment options.  Keynote speakers included Harriet Lamb of the Fairtrade Foundation and Helen Boothroyd of the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility (ECCR).  Harriet opened the conference with emphasis on the opportunity that the ethical investment movement has now.  A chance to take stock, to rethink and to do things differently, Harriet called on us all to put ‘integrity into investment and ethics into economics’.

We couldn’t agree more. We’re looking forward to hearing about how successful the week has been and about how we can get involved in the fifth anniversary of NEIW in 2012.

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Sharing an interest in the Fairtrade community

Weaving my way through the Saturday morning shoppers on my way to the Fairtrade Supporters Conference in Birmingham I was looking forward to the day ahead.  A day which turned out to be full of smiling faces keen to share their stories and experiences working to support fair trade in their towns, schools and faith groups, and keen to hear about the work of Shared Interest.

Arriving to set up my stall in the market place area, alongside BananaLink, CAFOD, Equal Exchange, Fair Trade Association Birmingham, Liberation, New Internationalist, Pants to Poverty, Tropical Wholefoods and Zaytoun, it was great to check out what wares I was going to be able to purchase, if nothing else some fab fair trade munchies for the train ride home!

Over the lunch period we were ambushed by fair trade enthusiasts keen to learn what the next step is that they can take in the fair trade journey, the theme of Fairtrade Fortnight 2012.  Some existing members of Shared Interest stopped to say hello, while some stopped to find out what we’d been up to recently as well as new faces enquiring about our work and how they can learn more.  A great conversation developed as one Fairtrade Town was explaining to another what Shared Interest does and why they have chosen to invest with us, word of mouth is such a powerful tool.

Overall it was a great day and great to touch base with the rest of the Fairtrade community. Hopefully I’ll see you all next year!

Sharing an interest in the Fairtrade community

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Fairtrade Supporters Conference 2011

It seems like only a few months ago I was decorating a bit of cotton bunting and buying some Fairtrade Christmas pressies at the Fairtrade Supporters Conference.  This year the annual conference, hosted by the Fairtrade Foundation, is moving out of London and travelling to Birmingham and I’m really looking forward to returning to what feels like a massive family reunion.

It’s great to meet in person the ‘@’ signs I’ve been following on Twitter or catch up with people I’ve met in the last few years of my involvement within the fair trade movement.  This year I’m particularly looking forward to hearing from Allegra McEverdy, founder of LEON restaurants, on the future of food.  LEON’s sweet potato wrap got me through a chilly Fairtrade Tea Dance at Spitalfields market a few years ago!  I’ll be taking lots of notes this year because as well as running a Shared Interest stall I’ll be attending for the first time as Chair of my local Fairtrade Steering Group and they’re expecting a great report.

Watch this space for an update and pics from the event and I look forward to seeing you there!

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Namayiana - Fair Trade Producer Visit Click here to learn how you can invest in fair trade.

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“Their Innovation Knows No Bounds”

As Supporter Relations Officer part of my role involves promoting Shared Interest to potential new members. Fairtrade Fortnight in particular usually means the opportunity to speak to a myriad of different groups. I often find that case studies are the best way to illustrate the work that we do.  One group that I tend to talk about is Apicoop. I recently had the opportunity to meet Apicoops’s Manager, Chino Henriques, I love meeting the people that we work with as it’s great to put faces to names as well as hear their stories directly.

Apicoop was established in 1980 and was a direct result of the challenging political situation facing Chile at the time.  There was little trust and communication among the population so the idea of Apicoop was to work with insects, in this case bees, to encourage co-operation among the people.  Chino explained this concept: “Bees organise themselves in a way very similar to that of a co-operative with the Queen Bee as the CEO with Worker Bees working together, with a 97% female workforce and 3% male, who are kicked out once their work is done anyway.”

The co-operative’s 300 members cover an area of 1,200 km2 to reduce the risks associated with beekeeping.  By covering a wide area any localised issues, such as weather conditions, may affect some honey production but not the entire co-operatives supply.  Due to the widespread membership the co-operative requires trucks to be able to deliver the hives and reach their members, they started by hiring trucks but with their first Fairtrade premium they were very pleased to be able to purchase their own truck.

Another clever investment Apicoop made was buying 20 hectares of land, they didn’t initially know what they would use it for but they thought it would be a good investment.  Now they operate a blueberry farm there where 80 women work as part of Apicoop.  They earn 100% more income than other blueberry fields and next year they will need more women and every woman who works there has vowed to bring a sister, daughter, mother or friend to work.  Apicoop aims for the blueberry field to be an example of good work to others in the country and around the world. 

Chino explained to an audience in Nottingham that without finance from Shared Interest Apicoop would not have been able to set up the blueberry project but since setting it up three banks have visited the blueberry field and asked how they can help.  Apicoop’s first crop of blueberries produced 80 tons, 50 tons of them going to their main Blueberries UK buyer, the Co-operative, with fellow North East organisation, Traidcraft, among their other buyers.

After the blueberries are collected, they are sent to Apicoop’s local exporter who packages them before sending them on to the UK. There is a risk that the exporter may be unable to fully support Apicoop in the future and so they plan is to build their own packing station…their innovation has no bounds!

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Namayiana - Fair Trade Producer Visit Click here to learn how you can invest in fair trade.

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Ethical investment: The elephant in the room?

In this, the third National Ethical Investment Week (NEIW) the elephant in the room appears to be the question “how do you know if your investment is ethical?”

With so many terms and acronyms out there; ‘ethical investment’, ‘SRI’, ‘positive impact investment’ how do you navigate the jargon to find the investment that is right for you?  The question was addressed by Victoria Woodbridge of EIRIS at our ECCR meeting last night where she made the point that if you are engaging with your finances, you are likely to be involved in ethical investment at some level.  Increasingly, people are looking at who is taking care of their money for them. We all make choices based on what we think the best thing to do with our money is.  How and what you choose, is of course an entirely personal issue.  We all have our personal ethics and issues we do or do not wish to support, from supporting companies investing in renewable energy to not supporting those investing in weapons.  In short, what makes ethical investment ethical is whether or not it matches your own values, and naturally, nobody will have the same values or priorities as anyone else.

NEIW openly uses the example of fair trade to demonstrate how the public already marry their consumer power with their values.  Those supportive of the fair trade movement are being encouraged to consider their ethical investment options. This campaign isn’t just aimed at individuals; it has been widely acknowledged that faith groups within the UK had a substantial effect on the popularity of Fairtrade products. NEIW is hoping to engage these groups further, using them to raise awareness of ethical investment options within the UK.

Earlier this week I hosted the event ‘How to invest ethically: Opportunities for churches and individuals’ in collaboration with Just Share.  The aim was to highlight the variety of ethical investment opportunities available to faith groups and individuals, encouraging those who already have a commitment to fair trade to consider their options. I joined representatives from Triodos, Oikocredit and Arcubus on a panel that answered questions from the audience. What became apparent from the questions asked is that we, as part of the ethical investment movement need to push harder to raise awareness of the products available, forcing products such as our Ordinary Share Account into the mainstream. Please see the video below.

If fair trade is one of your ethical concerns why not take a look at www.shared-interest.com and find out how we’ve been combining fair trade and ethical investment for the last twenty years.

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Namayiana - Fair Trade Producer Visit Click here to learn how you can invest in fair trade.

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First for Felixstowe

Standing up to speak at the Felixstowe Fairtrade Forums AGM I realised it was almost a year to the day since my first visit to meet the group, which is led by Shared Interest Ambassador Alan Muchal.  Alan had invited me over for the occasion to see if we could drum up further support for Shared Interest.

The keynote speaker for the AGM was Richard Howitt, MEP for East of England, who spoke of the need for trade justice.  Speaking about the role of the European Parliament in supporting Fairtrade he told us that the canteen at the European Parliament has 150 Fairtrade products.  He continued by pointing out that this commitment to Fairtrade must extend into the European countries themselves, and not remain within the walls of the Parliament.  This got me thinking about the way we each support Fairtrade?  Do we as individuals think in such a ‘joined up’ way?  I work from home so my immediate workplace is a Fairtrade one by default because my home is, but do you buy Fairtrade at home and not at work or school, or vice versa?  Do you buy Fairtrade for your own use but use the workplace non-Fairtrade stuff.  Do you drink the Fairtrade coffee your workplace provides but then continue to put the usual non-Fairtrade brand in your own shopping basket?  Are there small changes you can make to ensure your support and commitment to Fairtrade extends to all areas of your life, even if it is just swapping your coffee.

Shared Interest at Felixstowe Fairtrade Forums AGM

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Delivering not charity, but justice

Last Saturday delegates from near and far gathered in London to catch up on all things fair trade at the Fairtrade Supporters Conference.

One of the key speakers, Caroline Lucas -the UK’s first Green Party MP to be elected into Westminster- believes that Fairtrade has ‘achieved the essence of cool’.  It is a movement which people want to be involved with, as demonstrated by the packed out lecture theatre she was addressing.  It is a movement which aims to ‘deliver not charity but justice’ and strives for a form of economics ‘that serves us ALL better’.  Both of these are strong messages for the Fairtrade movement and really get to the heart of giving a hand up not a hand out.  It takes us all working together to change things for all of our benefit.

Andrew Ethuru, Produce Director at Cafedirect, followed Caroline Lucas with his views and perspectives from his own co-operative, Michimikuru in Kenya, as well as his involvement with Cafedirect.  I drink tea from Andrew’s co-operative to wake me up every morning, it goes into Cafedirects Everyday Tea, and so I was particularly interested to hear from him.   In 2005 Cafedirect partnered with Michimikuru and supported the co-operative to help them achieve Fairtrade certification.  From the resulting Fairtrade premiums Michimikuru has been able to support the community in a variety of ways including training for drivers, building classrooms and a community and workers dispensary.  Andrew made it clear that, although the costs of producing high quality Fairtrade tea were high, the value to them, and us, of this was worth these costs.  He concluded by saying that this was a partnership, they need us and we need them, I would tend to agree as I am useless without my morning cuppa!

Following these speeches we heard from the Co-operative Group who awarded the Fairtrade Fortnight Awards to groups from around the country who got swapping and tea brewing for Fairtrade Fortnight this year, you can see the full list of winners here.

Amongst all the presentations there were also tastings from FAIR, who produce Fairtrade Vodka and a market place where people could design their own bunting in advance of next years’ Fairtrade Fortnight campaign ‘Show Off Your Label’.

Overall it was a great day all round and we saw lots of interest from individuals and groups that were keen to learn more about Shared Interest and our role within the fair trade movement.

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Namayiana - Fair Trade Producer Visit Click here to learn how you can invest in fair trade.

Click here to donate to the Shared Interest Foundation
Mexican coffee farmer at work in the fields


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