Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Cashew nuts & Liberation

Yesterday was spent in a flurry of preparation for the evening while trying to catch up on countless other things that needed doing. I set off in plenty of time to pick up Juan and Jana from the station, but parking problems (not being willing to shell out £9 for the privilege of parking for 15 minutes in an all day spot) meant that I had to run to the platform when the train arrived so they descended from the train and couldn't see anyone there to meet them. However, we were soon on our way through the rush hour build up of traffic to get to the house for a warm drink and a brief rest before setting out for the university.
Jenny (seen above with Juan) had already set up a wonderful array of Fairtrade goods for sale. I was only sorry that I didn't have time to browse and look at the new items available now. Suzanne and John had collected the fruit donated by our local ASDA - well done them for supporting Fairtrade Fortnight so positively. Some of their other practices (or those of their parent group) could probably do with reform but that's another campaign for another place. The university had printed a wonderful poster with the event on, the coffee was hot and welcoming, and everyone wanted to welcome our guests. The techie stuff worked wonderfully so no worries on that front.
We heard from Chris Eddowes who with her husband is living the challenge of surviving on just local and Fairtrade goods this fortnight. She told of the difficulty of finding out what supermarkets stock, with no-one being able to produce a list of Fairtrade goods until a friend who works in one of them protested and forced the issue. But she also shared with us the pleasure of Fairtrade Easy peel oranges which apparently are just like the ones she'd enjoyed in Mediterranean countries. And she told us of rediscovering the flavour of local, free range chickens. The thing she was missing most was tomatoes, but one of the audience pointed out that locally grown ones are available at the moment, thanks to a hothouse system established on an old industrial site at Billingham.
Juan shared some of the history of Cashew growing in El Salvador, and the difficulties of earning enough money to build up the infrastructure of his area. We saw photographs of the fruit growing on the trees and video of the very simple machine they've bought with their fairtrade premium. It opens the nuts quite carefully, instead of having to break them open with a stone, so now they get a much higher percentage of whole nuts which get the top price at market. We also saw video of the women painstakingly peeling the outer layer from the nuts using tiny knives. They work an 8 hour day doing that. Between the tree and going into a bag the nuts have to be fried in vegetable oil to separate them from the fruit, opened, baked to remove a toxic element, peeled, separated by hand into whole, halves and bits. No wonder they're one of the more expensive nibbles we can buy. Even with the premium for Fairtrade and the premium price they can charge in Germany for being organic they still sat have to choose between building up the infrastructure by, for example, buying another machine for shelling and things that we take for granted like educating their children. What a heartbreaking choice to have to make - improve the business to make it more sustainable for future generations or educate the present generation. So to help them get more quickly to the point where they can afford both, watch out for Liberation brand cashew nuts and buy them!
After the presentation there were so many questions that there was only just time to finish with a passionate plea to support those businesses which support the development of new Fairtrade initiatives across the world, such as Traidcraft. Without their work the whole project will grind to a standstill because the supermarkets won't do the development work. That would mean putting up their prices, and we can't ask consumers to pay a fair price can we?? Or am I to be accused of being cynical? I just get so frustrated when people look for the cheapest all the time without counting the cost, and I get even more angry when I find myself being tempted along the same path. Get thee behind me Satan was never more needed than when supermarket shopping!

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