Saturday, 27 February 2016

Sitting Down for a Fairtrade Breakfast in York

"Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world" (Martin Luther King)
Perhaps this morning you relied on farmers in India for your tea, Colombia for your bananas, cocoa from Cote D'Ivoire, sugar from Malawi or coffee from Ethiopia. So since we rely on so many people just to produce our breakfast, how come the people who grow the food we take for granted can’t always feed their own families? This question lies at the heart of this year's Fairtrade Fortnight, which we kicked off in style in Yorkshire by hosting a Fairtrade Breakfast in front of York Minster. This is probably the only time I'm likely to eat breakfast outdoors in my pyjamas with the Lord Mayor of York in her dressing gown! The passing tourists loved it, unsurprisingly...
Breakfast with Lord Mayor of York, Sonja Crisp, in her dressing gown, complete with mayoral chains (she refused to be drawn on whether she actually goes to bed in these!)

Over our croissants and Fairtrade orange juice (or the lucky few who got some coffee from a Thermos), I met Fairtrade campaigners from all over Yorkshire, hearing stories from Batley and Spen, Bradford and of course our fair city of York which has been a Fairtrade City for more than 11 years. Between us, we represented a huge number of people across this part of the UK who believe it is a scandal that 70% of cocoa farmers in Cote D'Ivoire go hungry for at least a month every year, while half of children on tea estates in Malawi are stunted due to lack of food. 

Here's just a few facts and figures to illustrate the scale of the problem of food insecurity:
  • 90% of the world's cocoa and 80% of the world's coffee is grown by smallholder farmers. 
  • 2 billion people depend on smallholder farming, which often doesn't generate enough income or food to feed the family all year round. 
  • Half of the world's 795 million people facing severe malnutrition work on small farms. Even more people go hungry for part of the year between harvests.

Bananas in Pyjamas: otherwise known as
Fairtrade campaigners from York and Batley!
The human cost of this tragedy was brought home to me this week by my friend Nell, who has been writing about her work in Madagascar with the hospital ship "Africa Mercy". The ship provides surgery to address the diseases that malnutrition causes, particularly lack of vitamin D (rickets), resulting in bowed legs and permanent disability, and a horrific infection called noma which either kills you or destroys half your face (great choice, eh?) and is primarily caused by undernutrition (it has been unknown in Europe for decades). 
This is Rachel Parker, who runs Fairtrade
cafe Tea on the Green in Acomb:
an excellent venue for a hearty
Fairtrade breakfast!
Food insecurity is caused by multiple factors, but mostly it comes down to: 

  • power (one retailer will deal with thousands of farmers, making it difficult to obtain a fair price for your crop or any certainty about whether you will be able to sell it next year); 
  • poverty (lack of money to buy food, lack of savings or other assets like livestock to tide you over if your harvest fails or you suffer illness, lack of training to assist you in getting more yield and a nutritionally balanced diet out of your small plot of land); and 
  • infrastructure (poor roads restrict access to sell your produce for a good price and to buy food off other people, while lack of suitable processing and storage means it is difficult to store your own food for the lean periods). 
Fairtrade addresses each of these needs. By dealing with cooperatives, farmers have more power to negotiate and train each other in new irrigation and crop rotation methods. By committing to pay a fair price which will always cover the costs of production, and providing an advance at planting time to prevent farmers getting into debt with loan sharks, farmers can invest in improving their land with confidence and start to build up savings. Finally, the Fairtrade premium paid to the cooperative allows each community to invest in the infrastructure they need, whether it is better roads, a well, a school or food processing facilities. Being an engineer, I've written a whole separate blog post on the infrastructure issue here! 

So, will you wake up to the challenges farmers face and stand up for them by harnessing the power of a Fairtrade breakfast? And will you encourage your friends and family to do the same? After all, with Fairtrade, what you eat means the workers who made it can eat too!

Proud to live in Yorkshire. the
world's first Fairtrade region!

If you want to join a Fairtrade breakfast near you, check out the map here. And if you're in York, join us at York St John University on 1st March for breakfast at the Holgate Building (10 till 11.30am), or get down to the cafes in York libraries where there'll be 10% off Fairtrade food and drink during the two weekends of Fairtrade Fortnight (29th Feb to 13th March).

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  1. You wouldn't know from these photos just how cold we were !

  2. Hi, this is Nell, mentioned in the post. Thank you so much Jenny, and all your fellow campaigners, for everything you do. We can all contribute, no matter where we are, or what we do. We have choices to make every single day, so let's pray we make them wisely.