Fair Trade in India
Imagine this heart wrenching situation – a small farmer with not more than a few acres of land, and a family of eight to feed [six children, and a wife], in the middle of a drought-stricken state in Western India – Maharashtra – taking his life, and his wife’s life by ingesting poison. The farmer and his wife committed suicide because his crops failed, and he put up his land as collateral in exchange for fertilizer, seeds, and equipment, such as: a tractor, which he was told would increase the output of his crops.
Though he was using the optimal materials for farming, his crops failed miserably, because the Monsoon rains failed, as they have been doing so for the past few years. Also, because he was from the lower castes, he could NOT easily access water, either from the ground, or from the borewells, that the upper castes have. The result was that he committed suicide, and took his wife’s life in the process – with no provision given as to what would happen to their six children. Though it sounds like a harsh reality, the alternative, of being tortured in jail by the upper caste landowners, who he lent his land to, would have been even worse.
Hopefully this example – which is not uncommon in India, in fact statistics say that more than 275,000 farmers have taken their own lives for, either the same, or similar reasons since independence – will anger the reader, make the reader sad, and motivate the reader to want to do something to help the plight about the average Indian farmer.
Increasingly, middle class Indians are becoming more aware, and shocked about this phenomena, and are turning to the Fair Trade Industry, which is more than 20 years old in India, to help these farmers. Also, farmers with only a few acres of land, and little or no access to water are NOT the only farmers who face this problem – increasingly, well settled farmers with huge landholdings and more access to water face this problem.
However, after reading about more suicides, and stories of exploitation of farmers, and artisans, there is a growing effort being fed by the nascent concerns of the burgeoning middle classes, to be concerned about the plight of the farmers and artisans. The middle classes are growing daily, and so is the income that they can spend on items they want to buy What this means is that there is a domestic fair trade market in India.
Yet, there have to be networks between buyers and sellers, and infrastructure to ensure that the fair-trade market can take off in India. This impetus got its fillip during the week of Nov 22-29, 2013, when a group of farmers, business owners, civil society representatives, and retailers launched the Fairtrade Foundation India. The Fairtrade Foundation India, is a foundation, which has the intent of cementing the practice, and notion of fair-trade in India, currently, and in the future.
Abhishek Jani, CEO, of Fairtrade Foundation India, says that the shift of markets in the fair-trade industry is moving from Europe and America, to markets, in developing nations.
The fair-trade industry is more than sixty eight years old, and operates off of the idea of offering impoverished artisans and producers higher than average wages and incomes with the provision that they educate the artisans and producers, comply with requirements to make environmentally friendly products made out of environmentally friendly materials, ensure that artisans and producers work under good conditions and offer the artisans and producers fair wages.
In all, in 2013, consumers spent 4.8 billion Euros on Fair Trade items. Because this is a sizeable amount to spend on fair-trade items, this has convinced many analysts that the fair-trade industry is here to stay.
Though these artisans have been making fair trade items in India for decades, these items, have been sold to richer Western markets in the past, however, and this may signal that, as India, as a whole, is becoming richer, now, and many are turning to the Indian market to sell these items.
However, it may not be easy to do since the fair trade industry is still in its infant stages. Unfortunately, middle class consumers, for the most part, are NOT flocking to buying fair trade items out of concern for the plight of the consumers; instead, they do so, because they want more choices when it comes to buying food traditionally offered in the mandis, or because the want to adjust to middle class lifestyles.
The plan, to promote fair trade, is to have the producers create networks between producers and the middle class buyers in the metros by partnering up with retailers in the metros, who will sell these products.
It is definitely worth it for free trade retailers to enter into the market, because, according to a London-based research firm, TechNavio, the organic food market is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 21.34% between 2012 and 2014.
As the free trade market takes off in India, so will marketing, and branding in this industry, because most buyers in India see buying free trade items as conferring more of a benefit to themselves, and less of a benefit to Indian society. This is a perception, which must change if the movement is to be successful.
Efforts to market and brand free trade items as those which benefit society as a whole, are already underway. For example: The Fairtrade Foundation India has plans to begin programs, which will educate school and college going students on the benefits of fair trade items, and it will try to forge deals to have companies provide fair trade tea and coffee products in their vending machines.
There are some sellers in the fair trade market, who sell purely out of concern for the plight of the producers.
There are also 121,000 producers participating in the fair trade market in 2012 and received 2.4 million euros extra for the products that they sold. They are being encouraged to invest this money in education, healthcare, and other needs, which develop society.
There is a silver lining in the form of the fair trade movement, which is beginning to make dents in lifting the producers, who make up India’s masses, out of poverty.