What Fair Trade Means To Me On The Eve of Fair Trade Fortnight

ghandi graffiti

Safia’s favorite graffiti is this picture of Ghandi on Hanbury Street just off Brick Lane in East London near the People Tree offices.

I woke up in the small village of Rappa, in rural Gujarat, India. I came here to meet the farmers as they harvested their cotton for this collection. The birds were singing and there was the soft hum of bees. Women farmers in bright sarees were already in their fields. Between the cotton plants they have so carefully grown for People Tree, grow aubergine, tomatoes and chillies that will go straight into their cooking pots.

In this peaceful birthplace of Gandhi you could be forgiven for romanticising about the joys of village life.  However, farmers travel an hour by bullock cart on rough roads to buy sugar and other essentials. GMO seeds are blowing into neighbouring fields and toxic chemicals undermine their health, farms and livelihoods. The prices paid to farmers don’t even cover their costs, leaving them little choice but to send their children out to work at the age of twelve.

This January, when I went to visit our partners Agrocel, in Gujarat, I was shocked to see the effects of climate change. The rain is 7 weeks late – and the crop is going to be too late for our next collection. The farmers explained how they need People Tree to keep paying a good price for their cotton and buy it even though it is late. People Tree works in long term partnership, but it takes some organising and some creative problem solving. It’s such an unfair situation that the people with the lightest environmental footprint such as our cotton farmers are taking the brunt of climate change!

Organic cotton farming does help mitigate climate change. Organic soil has lots of live matter, it holds the water in it like a big sponge and keeps crops alive in times of drought. Usually the soil is as hard as tarmac. Also with long term support of Fair Trade and organic, farmers quickly find alternative crops to ensure that their economic and food security is not threatened.

Fair Trade also supports primary school, books, computers and good teaching and a huge clean water pond that benefits the wider community.  It is amazing to think the difference choosing a Fairtrade and organic dress can make!

After we left Gujarat, we travelled to South India to see how the Fairtrade organic certified cotton is then tailored into beautiful dresses. Creative Arts of Soul is a social business supporting their workers and the local coastal conservation projects. This is where the clothing production process begins – from the wonderful Fairtrade and organic cotton fabrics being cut, carefully tailored and then boxed up for People Tree. There was a lot of pride and joy on everyone’s faces.

More than 70% of People Tree clothing is made with 100% organic and Fairtrade certified cotton. Other items are hand woven in Bangladesh, or hand-knitted in Nepal, using only natural materials and produced by hand, which is carbon-neutral.

Organic and Fairtrade farming has brought some of the control back to farmers and their villages. They have their own seed banks and are campaigning against GMO seeds. They have organised themselves and with support from consumers are challenging the exploitative trading systems and multinationals that keep them poor.

Want to learn more about organic and Fair Trade cotton farming? Watch the story of Safia’s trip to visit Agrocel in Gujarat, India.

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