By Jono Kinkade
Fair trade farmers Pascual Ataulfo Moreno Matias and Ubon Yuwa want consumers to know where their food comes from, who produces it, and under what circumstances.
At an evening discussion hosted by the UC Santa Cruz Food Systems Working Group (FSWG), which works to promote sustainable, local, and socially-just food consumption on campus and in the Santa Cruz community, Ubon and Ataulfo shared insight about the important role that conscious consumption plays for people and the environment on both a local and global level.
Ataulfo, a fair trade coffee farmer from Chiapas, Mexico, and Ubon, a fair trade rice farmer from northeastern Thailand, addressed the impact they and their communities have felt since their products have become Fair-Trade Certified.
Fair trade is a designation that guarantees farmers a decent price for their product and funds that are returned to the community for uses such as education and health care, as well as requiring farmers and their community cooperatives to meet certain standards of social equality and a commitment to sustainable development.
"One of the weaknesses of globalization is that it’s a monoculture and doesn’t account for local [cultures]," Ubon said, translated from Thai.
"I want you to think about the life of the person that is growing your food."
Ataulfo was on a two-week trip around the West Coast accompanied by Jean Walsh of TransFair USA, who translated for him.
"We wanted to get rid of the intermediaries," Ataulfo said, referring to what they call ‘coyotes.’ "People said we were crazy when they saw us picking up fruit from the ground and animal manure so we can grow organically. Now we are doing it."
The products that can be Fair-Trade Certified are coffee, chocolate, bananas, sugar, quinoa, rice, and tea-all of which are common crops grown in developing countries and highly sought by the United States and countries in Europe. Ataulfo explained that fair trade farmers are guaranteed a return on coffee of $1.26 per pound, while conventional coffee has an unstable return between $.50 and $1.00 per pound.
"That $1.26 a pound has helped our families a lot," said Ataulfo, who is from a town of 280 people in the mountains of Chiapas, where coffee is the main source of income for the Campsinos Ecologicos de la Sierra Madre de Chiapas Coffee Cooperative (CESMACH).
"[This trip] gave me pride because today we went to a market," Ataulfo said with a smile, "and I saw Equal Exchange coffee and I knew that was our coffee."
Yet fair trade is only one small part of a bigger picture of alternatives to the free trade agreements many governments make. Tim Galarneau, UCSC alumnus and coordinator of the FSWG, which hosted the event, emphasized the importance of both sustainable local food systems and fair trade.
"Both are trying to build the direct connection between the producer and the consumer in a wholesome way," Galarneau said.
In addition, Galarneau emphasizes the UCSC Community and Agroecology Network (CAN), which works on a Fair-Trade Direct model, which connects the producer more closely to the consumer, bringing the farmer a return of up to $3.00 a pound.
"Fair trade is just an opening, just as organic was, which was co-opted," Galarneau said, referring to the potential of fair trade to lose its effectiveness unless sustainable regional and local food systems and direct connections to consumers are emphasized. "The CAN model has moved beyond fair trade in the fact that organic is being offered in WalMart, so is fair trade. So sustainable local food systems going beyond fair trade are our next step."