Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The dilemma of fair trade bananas

At Civil Eats yesterday, Aliza Wasserman explains the dilemma for the public interest entrepreneurs who are developing a fair trade banana market. The article describes a recent conference at Tufts University.

The most difficult question is whether fair trade bananas should come only from smallholders and cooperatives (preserving fair trade principles but limiting scale), or instead whether fair trade sourcing should allow larger plantations so long as they follow the stipulated principles (sacrificing a small-is-best principle but achieving a larger share of the total market).

Wasserman writes:
Fair Trade banana plantations have also been crucial to building a robust supply of Fair Trade bananas. Plantations represent both a key challenge and opportunity, by providing the promise to impact the broader industry and bring Fair Trade bananas to a larger consumer base. Nearly everyone at the conference hoped to impact the broader industry, whether they are focused on the future of small-scale or “smallholder” farmers, or the overall future of Fair Trade bananas.

But many of the presenters felt that the current pricing system, in which the Fair Trade certifying bodies, like Fair Trade International or FLO, distribute the same premium to plantation owners and small landholders alike, represents a major flaw in the system. Many in the industry believe that cooperatives of small producers should receive a premium that is linked to their higher cost of production relative to plantations, which can take advantage of economies of scale. Yet, the first banana producer to receive Fair Trade certification was a plantation, and scaling up Fair Trade would not be possible without them.
While a student at the Friedman School, Wasserman was a regular contributor to the U.S. Food Policy blog.


Jessica said...

Great blog post - glad to see it here! Thanks Aliza and Parke. To add a few more comments, while the debate between small farmers and plantations has raged since fairtrade became a formal certification, the debate connects to the same challenges that the organic industry faces now and historically: how to differentiate between nearby small-scale farms and large scale organic in California/Brazil/etc.? The ‘local movement' has somewhat effectively addressed this issue. Just like your local farmer, how can small-scale banana farmers compete against the efficiencies of large scale plantations? Here are a few links to more about the debate: http://smallfarmersbigchange.coop/2012/01/17/4500/
As an FYI - I'm a Friedman alum and work with Equal Exchange bananas. At Equal Exchange, we believe that authentic fair trade includes only small-scale farmer cooperatives, not plantations.

KelticKelsy11 said...

I agree that fair trade should come from cooperatives that give farmers power to control their own lives. Plantations don't give people any say in the company they are working for because they don't own it, they work for someone else.

Aliza said...

Thanks Parke for sharing the post and Jessica for elaborating on some of the nuance, which is really helpful.