After Cancun: Fair Trade for Africa!?

After Cancun: Fair Trade for Africa!?

By Hwaa Irfan

Being unemployed without social welfare to fall back on is only made easier by the fact that one knows that one has nothing else to fall back on accept for one’s own resources, creativity, and the support of relatives, and neighbors, especially if one does not live in an urbanized area. This may not be the case for those unemployed who do have social welfare, because there the money may only sustain the instinct to survive physically, especially if one lives in an urbanized area.

For consumers the ridiculous increase in prices would be tolerable if the reason behind it was that the money went back to the producers and farmers, but this is not the case, instead we find that the reason for the price increases is to make way for biodiesel fuel of which the only indication is, is to make wealthy the wealthy, and those who make wealthy the wealthy.

So imagine what it is like for farmers, and those who live off what they produce, to have their products sold for less than it’s worth in the global market. The products are either sold high to the consumer, or are sold cheaply, and the producer loses out, while the moneymakers win either way. Meanwhile, the rising prices on life excludes the urban unemployed and rural fully employed both of whom can only afford shelter and the worst kind of food, and not much else for their family are left out of the equation of fair trade.

As the world turns to Africa to save it again with its natural resources, Africa has continually been left out of the equation of global fair trade relegating the black continent and its people to a status of poverty, while the indigenous peoples of South America who also have been placed in the same position, are fighting to be included, with a fight that includes environmental sustainability. Caught within its own legacy of colonialism, Africa will have to regain a sense of self that is unmeasured by neo-colonial dictates, and from that to value what it has in order not to be re-submerged by neo-colonial rules in favor of the multinationals, but what is in favor and just for all both African and its global partners. Until this is done, present and future partners will continue to exploit Africa, and its global consumers.

With all the self praising of the outcome of the climate talks in Cancun, how does a country struggling with the global economic crisis offer to give £37mn sterling of British taxpayers money to aid overseas farmers in climate change? Albeit a pledge, which has yet to be fulfilled and over what time scale and for what actual purpose shall all be revealed, but this is what the U.K. have pledged. Will there be fair trade for the so-called new crops that Africa and other poor countries are expected to provide for flood, drought and storm stricken areas? What are farmers so supposed to adapt to, the agricultural lands did not concede to modern farming without losing its fertility, and who are these new crops for. More research into crops, livestock, fisheries, forestry, the environment, and new technologies according to the Department of International Development. From what can be observed, the “new technologies” for that which rose out of the Industrial Revolution has so far remained unsustainable, but if by “new technologies” it is meant the sustainable methods that have been based on the local knowledge of climate, and land fertility, then what more new research is required unless the aim is to facilitate the needs of the West which bought 45 million hectares of fertile African land in 2009 for its own food security! In this equation will it stave off a reoccurrence of the September 2010 food riot for bread in Mozambique, or will it only secure food, and then at what cost to the people who paid for it. Any landowner knows that once one sells land that is it, and to lease land long term also freezes the owner out of the picture. The money earned from that deal from a people who remain unaware to a people who are in need, does not any sustainabel returns for both groups of people. With most governments acting without consultation of the people, with a product in a land where good governancy cannot be guaranteed from year-to-year, the outlook is abysmal. As things stand, according to the World Bank’s report: “Rising Global Interest in Farmland. Can it Yield Sustainable and Equitable Benefits?” the land grabs carried out by Western and Asian governments and multinational companies have already led to smallholders being evicted from what was their land! Most people are fully aware of the level of the level of corruption of certain governments (Western and non-Western), and the frequency with which governancy changes hands in some African countries, so it is far from acceptable to ask after a land grab to question the laws of the nation concerned when there is a living example of  Nigeria’s oil!

 “…becoming dependant on aid is being trapped in a vicious circle of corruption, market distortion and further poverty, therefore the need for more aid.” Dambisa Moyo, in Dead Aid 

What is Fair Trade?

Fair trade means getting a fair deal, which can only transpire if the relationship between the producer and the buyer is a transparent one. There should be no need for a fair trade certificate if there is transparency, and it is a transparency that applies globally, not from negotiation to negotiation. This includes: 

  • Fair price
  • Fair labor conditions
  • Direct trade
  • Democratic and transparent organizations
  • Community development
  • Environmental sustainability

Without these basic conditions in place, those who can afford to wheel and deal should not be dealing. It is in the interest of all parties to ensure a sustainable relationship on behalf of the earth that sustains us all. In Islam, as well as in the traditions of many indigenous people’s the rights of all, including the earth are a binding relationship. By not honoring that obligation, we dishonor not only the earth bequeathed to us, but we also dishonor our children and who come after us, i.e. the future.  However, this is not intrinsic to capitalism, the exploitative system that current global governance is fighting to maintain. 

Transparency in Trade

When the U.S. got stroppy with China about the undervaluing the yen, it disregarded the fact that it has done everything to secure its own place in the global market at the cost of everyone else, and the fear of losing its unearned position in the world as the leading super-power. However, the U.S. is not alone in fixing the market to the exclusion of Africa by subsiding Western farmers. If all was fair in love and war, there would no need to subsidize farmers in the West, because those farmers would benefit from the increasing food prices by receiving their worth and not more than their worth, at least this is the goal for Egyptian farmers, albeit that elements of the food price increase in Egypt have more to do with the middle man, a lack of respect for their own produce, and unnecessary imports. However, it would have been more constructive to engage the public in the understanding of the goal, and to re-balance the situation so that the urban poor can have access to the basic foods that provide good health in a system that has no real health system. However in general, the profits from the astronomical global food prices is instead making the rich richer, and increasing global hunger.

The U.S, the E.U., and China  by subsidising farmers, to the tune of $47.4bn/£29.5bn over the last decade does not only lead to a false economy, but cheapens the produce of farmers when it comes to global trade. In the Fairtrade report “The Great Cotton Stitch Up.” Because of this, 10 million West African cotton farmers remained in a daily struggle to survive. The $47.4bn/£29.5bn subsidy cost 4 West African countries (Benin, Burkino Faso, Chad and Mali) £155mn a year! While global cotton prices doubled this summer and prices are set to increase for European customers, the African supply of cotton remains undervalued, but no less in quality. Malian cotton farmer Douda Samake and secretary of a cotton cooperative told The Independent:

“Cotton is our only income. These [US subsidies] are the reason we’re not producing as much cotton. Mali cotton farmers are hardly able to cover their living costs

“It’s the main export for Mali and the state does not have funds to pay for healthcare and education.”

Unlike the British and American unemployed, and those whose income is just enough to survive, the a Malian cannot afford to be sick, because not only do they have to pay for healthcare and education, but they lose the little income they do get by being ill. Then in the same breath, Westerners and its followers will turn round and blame black Africans for their own plight! Cotton is not food, but it can provide food to the families of the producers, as well as healthcare, education, and increased production.

In an endeavor to reach redefine trade relations, the E.U. has been trying to negotiate with certain African countries an Economic Partnership Agreement, however, old habits die hard. Namibia is one such country that has been involved in a long drawn out negotiation, but one that it is reluctant to acquiesce to. It was made clear in a letter to influential European civil society organizations that:

“The signing of the interim EPA would have serious impacts on agricultural and industrial development in Namibia. Among other consequences the country would have to forfeit the policy option of using export taxes on raw materials and an important incentive for value addition of raw materials and as a potentially important new source of income.” 

If all African countries took this approach it would help the E.U. and other interested parties to reflect on what it means to have a partnership that is in the interest of all parties without being detrimental to the producing country, its environment, and its people. For the International Labor Organization which is concerned with the registered 34 million unemployed (2007 – 09), future development should be built on:

  • Environmental sustainability
  • Social justice
  • Economic efficiency
  • Democratic participation
  • Cultural diversity
  • International responsibility

And it is because the above approach is inclusive and not exclusive it makes perfect sense for future global development. These are not fundamentals that can wait, they have to be built into discussions, negotiations, and agreements from now not when the failing infrastructure has been resurrected as an exclusive network. Climate talks are an exclusive club, that does not have the ability to rise above making charitable steps towards solving the problems that the club members have created. Instead of doling out US$100bn Green Climate Fund by 2020 to poorer countries as agreed at Cancun, the extra effort should be directed towards cutting greenhouse emissions in a shorter time frame as the club members are largely responsible for this, and the increased climatic challenges that poorer countries are being forced to face, and to dismantle and restructure the global basis of trade. This narrow-mined approach which involves the least effort ignores the market reforms of the 1980’s which has been fundamental in impoverishing developing countries further as is the findings of the report: Neoliberal Policy, Rural Livelihoods and Urban Food Security in West Africa: A Comparative Study of The Gambia, Côte d’Ivoire and Mali  by Oregon State University professor Laurence Becker and others:

“Many of these reforms were designed to make countries more efficient, and seen as a solution to failing schools, hospitals and other infrastructure”

“But they sometimes eliminated critical support systems for poor farmers who had no car, no land security, made $1 a day and had their life savings of $600 hidden under a mattress.

“These people were then asked to compete with some of the most efficient agricultural systems in the world, and they simply couldn’t do it”

“With tariff barriers removed, less expensive imported food flooded into countries, some of which at one point were nearly self-sufficient in agriculture. Many people quit farming and abandoned systems that had worked in their cultures for centuries.” 

These forces have undercut food production for 25 years, the researchers concluded. They came to a head in early 2008 when the price of rice – a staple in several African nations – doubled in one year for consumers who spent much of their income solely on food. Food riots, political and economic disruption ensued”.

This is not the first time this has been stated, but who’s listening. Maybe one day those in power will be forced to listen, to reflect and to do something seriously about it before it is too late for all of us! 


Avril, H. “Land Grabs in Poor Countries Set to Increase.”

“Fair Trade.”

Becker, L et al. Neoliberal Policy, Rural Livelihoods and Urban Food Security in West Africa: A Comparative Study of The Gambia, Côte d’Ivoire and Mali. Oregon State University. Department of Social Science.

Hickman, M. “West’s Billions in Subsidy Shuts Out African Cotton Growers.”

Martens, J. “Steps Out of the Global Development Crisis.”

“U.K. Gives £37m to Aid Overseas Farmers on Climate Change.”

Van den Bosch, S. “EU Backs off on EPA.” 

Related Topics:

The Doctrine of Discovery

The House of Three Rooms

Oil vs. Communities: The Case of the Niger Delta

Oil vs. Communities: The Case of Peru

Al-Biruni’s “Economy of Nature” in Modern Biotechnology

G20 Reasons Why Your Fortune is Not Your Own!

The Echo of Life

Our Africa: Europe’s Debt Pt.1

Increasing Food Insecurity for Short Term Gain

Xenophobia on African Shores and Elsewhere

United Against Hunger – Standing Up For Justice

Do You Like Pineapples?

Eating Away at Our Earth

Finding a Global Balance

Behind the Food Price Crisis!

One thought on “After Cancun: Fair Trade for Africa!?

  1. This is a really excellent read for me, Must admit that you’re among the finest bloggers I ever saw.

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