Abhishek Jani, CEO, Fairtrade Foundation India, talks about the need for Indian consumers to engage with the fair trade process

The fair trade movement seeks to provide small Indian producers (farmers and plantations workers) access to international markets and improve their social and environmental standards. It also works towards ensuring equal pay for men and women, and improving rural communities by investing in them. “After 19 years of helping small-scale farmers, we are excited that the movement has come to the Indian market. Now we want Indian consumers to engage with the fair trade process,” says Abhishek Jani, CEO, Fairtrade Foundation India, who was in the city to meet organic producers.

Abhishek says there is a pressing need for an awakening among people to buy products that are a part of this movement because every year many farmers are quitting agriculture. “It’s not like they are going to better jobs. They are finding jobs as farm workers elsewhere,” he says. While such serious issues need to be addressed, they receive only sporadic attention when celebrities lend their name to them, feels Abhishek. “This is not about creating a wave of pity. We are looking at a situation where everyday people can be part of a large movement that helps Indian producers maintain their dignity. We ensure producers are given a fair price, plantation workers get their due, and women farmers are paid equally. We believe in empowering not through doles but investments in the farming community.”

So how does Fairtrade achieve these goals? “We offer a minimum support price and additional social investment. We invest in the community as per its wishes. Many farmers today want better access to education for their children. For example, in Haryana’s Naard village, the farmers wanted a computer centre for girls. It was not safe for them to travel far after dark. So today, there is a centre in the village where they learn!” Abhishek adds, “All farmers have a small patch on which they cultivate for their families. They use no chemicals here. We asked them why and they explain that ‘once you have smelled and seen the chemicals, there is no way you will want to eat the crops.’ But because of market demands they use pesticides and fertilizers — within legal limits — to ensure better yield.”

But what’s important to remember is that markets can fail. “Let me give you an example. In UP, in a village, last year, carrots were sold for the highest price. But this year the prices fell through the ground and farmers couldn’t make enough to even pull the carrots out. So they ploughed with the carrots in the ground. Markets are highly volatile and, you can imagine that apart from the financial burden how these problems can create emotional distress too for farmers who put their heart and soul into their work. With Fairtrade we can ensure a stable minimum price for farmers. We ensure they also have access to finance and build long-term relationships with them,” he explains. The movement also brings farmers together so that they can collectively achieve their goals.“We also work with mid-sized companies that are looking at ethical practices. When vanilla prices crashed, the number of people cultivating it reduced and as a result bakeries and ice cream companies were hit. To stop this, bakeries can support the minimum price and be there for farmers when the markets let them down. This is what we are aiming at,” Abhishek adds. Fairtrade Foundation India also partners with some of the oldest and organic producers from the Tamil Nadu region.

Fairtrade Foundation India will launch the Fairtrade mark for India on November 21.