We Are Also Part of This World

It’s very important to understand what producers are doing with Fairtrade Premiums, because the choice is not just about your ability to pay for fair trade products but about the communities where you can see practical projects in the interests of the community.

This is a school constructed from Premiums. This is not to say that our government is not making an effort to build schools in our communities. You may all be very much aware that your Canadian government supports African countries, but fair trade is not about the relationship between the Canadian government and my government—or other African governments. It’s about the relationship between farmers and consumers who have chosen a path—a path that has something to do with the heart. You are not buying fair trade products just because you have money. You are buying fair trade products because you want a child to go to school. Many people are very lucky to come from a part of the world where education is such that you just cannot avoid it. For us, we struggle to even get it. The consequences can be seen in the lives we live. We pay dearly.

When you buy anything—when you walk into the shop and buy a finger of banana—this is what you build: Here, Fairtrade Premiums have been used for clean drinking water. It is unbelievable that today, in the 21st century, we are able to travel to the moon—we are able to do a whole manner of things with technology—yet some people cannot even get clean drinking water. We walk to the streams and drink the water with our animals. This is not the life we should live as human beings. 

Many people might think that Fairtrade Premiums are only for building schools. No. We all know what malnutrition is. We know what happens when people are not well fed. When people are not well fed, it affects their human resource capacity. They become liabilities to their countries, because their governments have to look for resources, to look for medicines, to treat them all the time. If you don’t eat well you certainly won’t be strong and healthy.

Here, this community decided, let us establish farms where farmers can go and take at least a can of milk every other day. Cows were purchased with Premium money to provide milk. Instead of going to the store to buy milk, they go to where there are cows. They go and take it to feed their family, to make their children healthy. They also invested part of their Premiums in poultry so that they can get eggs, weekly. This is a brilliant idea. This farmer has come to collect eggs. In a week, he will take two crates of eggs to feed his family. The issue of nutrition is being addressed—from the grassroots, from the Premiums.

When I travel across Africa, I don’t go only to inspect Premium projects, I also interact with workers and farmers in their communities. I am their representative. It’s my responsibility to go to these farmers to tell them, “You workers have no idea what happens in the north. It’s not as if they are so rich that they just go and walk into the shop and buy fair trade. They have to be spoken to. They have to be educated. They have to understand why they are buying fair trade.”

Fair trade is a very, very difficult certification model because you have to appeal to people. You have to spare resources to talk to people. You have to engage with consumers. It’s about managing relationships. It goes beyond having fair trade shops and fair trade towns, like we have in Vancouver. It’s wonderful to think that where we are across the seas, some people are thinking about us. They’re thinking not only about our farms; they are thinking about our children, about our opportunities, about our women, about the environment. This is a wonderful thing for us. And these are the stories we tell people when we meet them. 

Q: Can you explain what has contributed to the growing number of farms becoming Fairtrade certified?

When you advertise a product, you are not only advertising a product, you are also advertising those behind the product. When you live an exemplary life in your community, it’s natural that others will follow suit. The reason for the increase in the number of Fairtrade certified farms is that those of us who are Fairtrade certified do things differently in our communities.

First of all, we are democratic in our practices. The situation where we can have men and women sit together to make decisions—you should appreciate the fact that in Africa, because of our culture, and our differences, there are some cultural practices that do not recognize gender equality—but when others see a co-operative ask women to come and stand and be elected to leadership positions, when they see women become treasurers, when they see women own there own projects within the organization, then they start asking questions. When they go out into the bush, they find we are not spraying our farms the way they do. We do our work and ensure that our children do not have to.

Another town, which did not have a school, they came to our community and they saw our school and they asked, “How did you do this?” And we said, “Well, through fair trade.” And they say, “What is fair trade?”

In our communities, these are the simple things people see. They become excited, and say, “Well, let us also join you, because we have our own communities.”

Q: Are you saying that as consumers we can empower farmers so they can rise up against the system?

No, no, no. If you look at it from that angle, it will be a negative take on accepting fair trade. No. You are supporting a process to build the capacity of producers, not to rise up against anybody, but to make themselves relevant in the system. That’s what it means. You make yourself relevant. You don’t rise up against the system. The systems are about us, but when the systems are not properly administered, when they are not properly managed, they go against us. For example, if we decide that, in our community, we are not going to pollute the water bodies around us, we act together. In conventional farming, people don’t care about all these things. They go and do what they want to do. Nobody checks them. Any system that has no checks and balances has no benefit to the people. There must be checks and balances. And that is why we have accepted the fair trade standards. We are open to audits. Come and check us. You want to check my farm? Check my community? See the children? Talk to the women? This is it.

When we say we make a decision, we take minutes; they are recorded. We have agendas attached. Whoever was at the meeting was recorded as there, so you cannot come back and say you only made a decision because you are the chief of a community. It doesn’t work that way with fair trade. Fair trade opens avenues for dialogue. Our communities, however small they are, are made up of different ethnic groups. We also have smaller political bodies. We have religious groups. All of these groups exist in communities. But, you see, when you are Fairtrade certified, you are certified for this product. Whether you are a Muslim, a Christian, an atheist, a chief, a whatever, you are coming to the table to talk about this product. You are not coming to talk about your political affiliations. Fair trade eliminates class distinction. It eliminates possession over another person. That is how society must be built. Society must be flexible, it must be open—but with rules and regulations, so that people can be responsible and do things the right way. You become one another’s people.

I want to thank you all on behalf of my colleague farmers. You are the ones who give us hope. You are the ones who recognize that we have a future. You are the ones who also believe that we should be treated as human beings. You are the ones who are working very hard to ensure social justice in our communities. You are the ones who work around the clock—you sacrifice your time, energy, resources—to make sure that there is economic empowerment. You are the same people who sit around meetings and share ideas and talk to consumers to ensure that there is adequate protection for our communities. You can imagine how close we are, despite the distance between us. We are so close. When we think about fair trade, we think about our future. And we too can knock our chest and say, “Yes! We are also part of this world.” That is how it is. We are so grateful to you for choosing fair trade. Thank you very much.

Chief Adam Tampuri is a cashew farmer from Ghana. Currently, he is the board chairman at Fairtrade Africa and a board member at Fairtrade International. In September 2014, he visited fair trade stakeholders across Canada to speak at a number of events. The following is a selection of transcribed excerpts, revised and formatted for print, from a slideshow presentation and discussion in Vancouver.

"We Are Also Part of This World" was originally published in the Winter/Spring 2015 Edition of Fair Trade Magazine