Fair trade, Carbon Footprints and Affordable Food - Biopesticides help Balance the Books
The UK's most recent 2010 Fairtrade Fortnight, the Big Swap, encouraged consumers to swap their usual purchase for a fair trade alternative.
Almost a million people rose to the Fairtrade Foundation's challenge between February 22 and March 7 2010.
That's great for producers in the developing world, many of them small farmers who often struggle to make a living when they have to compete with import protection and the costs of buying the seeds and fertilizers.
Here's what the Department for International Development has to say on Fair trade: "DFID welcomes Fairtrade Fortnight. It supports its message of making trade work for the developing world. But our commitment to fair trade is not just confined to two weeks in February. We believe that trade is a very powerful way to reduce world poverty, which is why we work throughout the year to improve trading opportunities for poor countries."
But this also presents consumers with a seemingly insoluble dilemma - when we're also being encouraged to reduce our carbon footprint by buying local to combat climate change.
If shoppers are persuaded to stick to buying local it impacts on farmers in often poor countries. Here's the DFID again "With British shoppers spending over £1 million each day on buying African fruit and vegetables and with supplies of organic African produce growing, banning (imported foods) could result in the loss of a valuable market and impact on many small farmers. "It's been estimated recently that almost a million rural African livelihoods depend partly on trading fruit and vegetables with the UK."
Would you give up bananas, melons, avocados or even green peppers - things we tend to take for granted and half the time forget are imported - in order to reduce your carbon footprint?
How do we even know whether our sacrifice would have a significant impact?
Is there a solution?
Studies show that organic farming can be more profitable than conventional methods of production.
Did you know? - Organic horticultural exports from the developing world to Europe are calculated to be worth US$100 million a year. - You emit more carbon driving six and a half miles to buy your shopping than is emitted by flying a pack of Kenyan green beans to the UK. - Air-freighting fruit and vegetables from Africa accounts for less than one-tenth of 1% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Co-op Group, we must "ensure that the world's poorest producers are not penalised for what are essentially the sins of world's richest consumers." - For example, Kenya's carbon emissions are 200kg per head, while in the UK they are almost 50 times that.
Companies in the lead in research and development of agricultural products like biopesticides, including Marcus Meadows-Smith, CEO of US based company Agraquest echo this sentiment.
He, too, believes it is not right for farmers to have to compromise on yield and that sustainable farming using this new generation of safer, more natural agro products, may eventually provide part of the answer to the dilemma, particularly in the developing world, since it will help protect their land, maximize its yield and help producers to sell their products in the global marketplace.
Hopefully eventually none of us will have to wrestle with our consciences between Fair Trade and reducing our carbon footprint - nor sacrifice our melons and bananas.
Ali Withers is an experienced, qualified journalist specializing in a variety of consumer issues including organic food , its production and use of low-chem biopesticides, biofungicides and yield enhancers for sustainable farming. A useful web resource she has found is the US-based low-chem agricultural products R & D company AgraQuest http://www.agraquest.com/