AS the frost began to set in for the night, a group of interested people gathered in the Berwickshire High School, Duns and once the main speaker started, any consideration of the winter outside was swept away as their thoughts were ‘transported’ to Uganda.
Shiela Sim had worked with local and national Fairtrade representatives to enable Ugandan coffee grower Justine Watalunga to speak to the public as part of her Scottish tour during ‘Fairtrade Fortnight’. John Lamont MSP (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) who has been closely involved with Fairtrade, shared the floor to provide a wider perspective.
Justine began by outlining the process of growing coffee and preparing the beans for export.
Throughout her informative presentation it was abundantly clear that involvement with the Fairtrade scheme has transformed both her personal life and that of her community. The guaranteed fair price for producers like herself, and the premium payments, have brought a great degree of stability into what had previously been an uncertain situation where growers were pretty much at the mercy of the middlemen exporters who aimed to source the coffee for as little as possible in order to maximise their own profits.
Working co-operatively Justine and other growers make collective decisions regarding how to spend the community premium for the greater good.
So far they have been able to allocate funds to local school and bridge building projects, and have plans to further improve education facilities with the creation of a computer education service.
She explained how involvement with Fairtrade has empowered women growers such as herself and has made it possible for them to strengthen their collective working rights.
Fresh from the announcement that Scotland has been granted ‘Fair Trade Nation’ status, John explained more about the role that organisations, towns and countries can play through gaining Fair Trade accreditation.
An informative question and answer session followed John’s input which allowed Justine to offer further insights into her life and work. When I spoke to her later I established that she has been involved with Fairtrade for around four years and it has clearly transformed her life for the better.
The evening provided a wonderful opportunity to gain an insight into a different world, there was also a chance to taste some to her product afterwords, alongside displays of a range of other Fairtrade produce, much of which had been brought along from ‘Under The Sun’ in Kelso.
The Co-operative and Berwickshire High School Parents’ Association must be thanked for their invaluable help in securing the hire of the hall for the evening. Whilst it is quite possible that a number of those attending are already supporters and consumers of Fairtrade, events such as this are always welcome and offer opportunities to find out more and encourage people to spread the word to others.
Fairtrade have an aim to get more people to swap from their usual products to Fairtrade alternative options. In addition to providing a just income for producers, consumers also have the benefit of rigorous quality assurance, and contrary to perceptions that some might hold, prices are very competitive and do not necessarily imply that Fairtrade items are more expensive.
Against the background of the revelations surrounding the food chain for processed meat products it was encouraging to hear about one supply source that is stringently audited to ensure quality assurance at all stages.