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Gouridasan Nair
Neha Bhayana
Roshani Parekh

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Fair Trade and Food Sovereignty

Report by Neha Bhayana and Roshani Parekh
Facilitator:Pierre Johnson (Fair trade workshop of the WSSE/Alliance 21))

Key Words:Public Policy, State Intervention, Food Security, Food sovereignty, Trade Liberalization


The objective of this seminar was to draw a parallel between fair trade and food sovereignty. It contemplated the role of trade liberalization as one of the main causes for the loss of food sovereignty in developing countries. The seminar was aimed at finding answers to several questions – Is trade really a hindrance to food sovereignty? What kind of trade do we want? Can Fair Trade support food sovereignty?

Convergence and Possible Areas of Conflict between Fair Trade and Food Sovereignty:


•Both movements stress on the importance of small and medium-scale farmers.
•Both stand for a change in multilateral trade regulations and aim at setting up new criteria in trade agreements.


•The fair trade movement has been supporting farmers producing commodities in the South for export, mainly to the North.
•Fair Trade has focused on international markets, without focusing much on the national and regional markets.
•It has stressed the importance of income generation but has not established links with other challenges, like local development and food sovereignty.
•The demand for the right to protect national and local markets to ensure food sovereignty may be seen as the wrong strategy by certain Fair Trade supporters.

Key issues debated:

•The speakers from Brazil raised the issue of Right to Food v/s Right to Food Sovereignty. Rosemary Gomes and Maria Wolf cited the problem of hunger in Brazil and said that one’s right to food is superior to one’s right to food sovereignty. They were of the view that the farmers must be encouraged to produce staple foods for self-consumption.
•The issue of subsidies was raised and an appeal was made for the elimination of subsidies on agricultural products by the developed nations.
•The effects of trade liberalization were discussed in detail. The dumping of sub-standard goods from North to South and the pressure from the markets to produce cash crops was considered a hindrance to food sovereignty.
•A need was felt for the localisation of fair trade so that it benefits rural farmers.


All the speakers agreed on the following points: •The need for an international dialogue on fair trade and food sovereignty.
•The need for a dialogue on the question of fair pricing.
•The need for localisation of fair trade to promote food sovereignty.

Possible divergence:

Anne Françoise of Artisans du monde suggested the development of local fair trade markets in the South. The strategy of the North is to seek higher volumes. This would mean that farmers would not be able to diversify or produce for self-consumption. So, while answering northern consumers’ demands, it works against the principles of food sovereignty. This strategy risks leading to a deadlock. The second strategy she suggested was to link Fair Trade to Solidarity Economy.


The panelists made several proposals in the course of the seminar. Some of the main proposals were the following:
•Dialogue between fair trade movements and food sovereignty movements in order to find some common ground leading to their integration. As both movements are trying to better define their values, principles and strategies, a dialogue could prove fruitful. The possible outcome - if Fair Trade incorporates certain demands of Food Sovereignty - may be a great achievement. On the other hand, farmers’ and consumers’ movements worldwide may learn from the three or four decade long experience of Fair Trade.
•Creation of a new model of agricultural production in contrast to the industrial model of agriculture promoted by international organizations like the World Bank, WTO, the IMF and the elite nations.
•Initiation of international dialogue.
•A new democratic order to regulate world trade and the setting up of courts of appeal to ensure fair trade. •Intervention by UN agencies like ILO, Food and Agriculture Organization, UN Trade and Environment Agency and initiation of measures against poverty, hunger, etc. •Mobilisation and change in public policy at national and regional levels and state intervention to support family farming for one’s own needs. •Development of local fair trade markets in the south.

Challenges for fair trade organizations with regard to food sovereignty

Challenges towards strategies in developing fair trade

1. Fair trade organizations, especially in the North, are looking to improve the situation of producers by the sale of more products. The question raised leads to contradiction between the necessity to better the social conditions of production and to refuse an export driven agriculture required by the IMF or the World Bank.

2. The second challenge is linked to the modes of distribution in the North to develop fair trade. Two different strategies exist:
•The first one looks for high volumes, in particular, for big supermarket chains. This strategy risks leading to a deadlock. While answering northern consumers’ demands, it works against the principles of food sovereignty.
•The second aims at developing fair trade through activities linked to social and solidarity economy. This strategy has been developed by Artisans Du Monde. For them fair trade is a tool to educate consumers about their mode of consumption. They are for propagating the idea among consumers that they have to give priority to local agriculture because in the North they need to consider their own agriculture also.

Political challenges

International agriculture agreements should be subordinate to food sovereignty. This means the right of every government to support its food production and control imports as long as it endangers producers who are trying to diversify their production.

Recent campaigns have focused on making trade fair. One of the demands has been that the northern countries should lower or remove their subsidies as to allow market access to southern countries. The two questions neglected while limiting the demand to the withdrawal of subsidies concern prices and market regulations and protection. These very questions are ones that neo-liberalism does not want to take into account and are exactly linked to food sovereignty. Both these questions are more important than subsidies as long as subsidies are not linked with dumping.


Speaker -Maria Eunice Wolf Organization/Country – (Fetrafsul/ADS-CUT/FBES) Brazil

There has to be social networking and dialogue and strong links between Fair Trade and Food Sovereignty.

There are three ways in which this can be achieved:

• Building a strategy of collective decision. • Building an international debate • Involving the civil society

The human aspect of Food Sovereignty is of crucial importance as can be seen from the undignified means by which many in Brazil get their food. The World Economic Forum report shows that 2.8 million people in the world are starving. Of these 3/4th belong to the rural areas. There is need to focus on indigenous developments in family agriculture and there should be constant dialogue between farmers, trade unions and the government to improve the living conditions of rural families. Family production in Brazil accounts for 1/3rd of the global production and an increase in supply would mean better supply of food. The rural group of CUT has demanded subsidization of staple food from the Government, reduction in market pressure and secure income for families.

Speaker– Rosemary Gomes Organisation/Country– (Fase/FACES do Brasil/RBSES), Brazil

Fair Trade model should be tried in agricultural production in contrast to the industrial model of agriculture, which is led by the multilateral organizations and elite nations. The Fair Trade model could be used to build a horizontal relationship between producers and consumers. This model can be supported by public policy to counter multinationals and work towards a society based on cultural diversity and food sovereignty.

In order to attain food sovereignty, it is necessary to stop the dumping of sub-standard products from the North to the South, eliminate direct and indirect taxes and put a stop to the demand for further economic liberalization. Food is not a mere commodity and Food Trade is subordinate to one’s right to feed oneself.

Speaker- Anne Françoise Taisne Organisation/Country – Federation Artisans du Monde, France

Fair Trade is part of the principle of food sovereignty through its practices and its actions of advocacy. There are some important points to be remembered in this context. These are:

A fair price

Fair price covers production costs along with social and environmental costs. The market coffee price, for example, stands at 70 cents a pound, while Arabic fair trade coffee is priced at 126 cents to a pound at the New York stock exchange. This fair price is supposed to be a bit higher when conventional price goes above 126 cents to a pound. Unfortunately, this has not happened for a couple of years, this mechanism of fair trade is the first step taken towards food sovereignty since buyers and producers have the same say in determining price. This is one of the tasks of producers’ organization, which are working together looking for strategies aimed at bettering and diversifying production.

A practice linked with a mode of production allowing sustainable development

Fair trade organizations are developing the following principles:
•They encourage producers to diversify their production and not to rely on the seeds or fertilizers sold by big corporations.
•The standards of fair trade give priority to small-scale producers except when the local organization does not allow it. This can be observed in the case of tea in India where there are no small-scale areas of production.
•Producers are getting an added value. As soon as possible, packaging is done in the south. For e.g., tea producers packs their produce at the earliest which allows them to have a bit more money which they use for buying food or for paying school fees. These forms of production are linked with processes of collective organization. Producers’ organizations are playing a major role in securing food rights.

A contribution to the development of local markets

Fair Trade must contribute to the development of local markets by linking the urban and rural populations, allowing changes in consumption and by concrete contribution to the refusal of imports, which are destroying local markets.

Fair trade and food sovereignty are two recent ideas, which are sometimes wrongly considered as being opposed while practice shows how close they are. Fair trade should be considered an alternative to conventional trade. It has to distance itself from neo-liberal models that do not care about food sovereignty. The food sovereignty principles can be integrated with fair trade because fair trade is part of solidarity economy that puts people before profit. The next challenge is to develop interactions between organizations from the civil society so that tomorrow there could be real food sovereignty

Speaker- Ibrahima Koulibaly Organisation/Country-ROPPA (West African Farmer’s Network) Mali

Family farming is really dominant in Mali, Western Africa, and only 0.5% of the total production represents industrial farming. Although family farming ensures sustenance of the families, World Bank, IMF and other organizations are targeting them now. The current problem faced by the farmers of Mali is that they have no access to any kind of equipment and finance, no access to own market. This type of agriculture is basically oriented towards production of staple foods for sustaining the family. This form of agriculture has been hampered by the market demand for cash crops.

The government needed foreign currency. Therefore, it began promoting food production for export leaving families in the lurch. In spite of the push for higher exports, the country plunged into financial crisis and had to borrow money from many international lending agencies. The families could not diversify their crop any more. This forced them into borrowing money to purchase food grains from outside. This has destroyed local agriculture. The production of staple food within the country itself is in trouble because of the imported food items.

He suggested two measures at national level. They are: • There should be trade, but it should not be superior to human rights
• Farmers should get remunerative prices so that they can persist with farming operations.


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