York Fair Trade Forum was involved in two very successful events to mark this year’s Fairtrade Fortnight. The first was a coffee morning on 7 March co-hosted with our friends at York St John, a Fairtrade university. Following this year’s theme, Take a Fairtrade break, we offered our old favourites, cakes and biscuits made with fairly traded ingredients. These goodies were washed down with samples of three fair trade coffees – the one served in St John’s outlets, and two from women producer groups. We chose these to help celebrate York’s International Women’s Festival and to draw attention to the particular challenges facing women coffee farmers.
During the morning we were delighted to be joined by the civic party. Every three years we apply for re-accreditation as a Fairtrade Town, and this process was completed again recently. Kathryn Tissiman, chair of the Forum, presented the new certificate to Lord Mayor Dave Taylor.
On the evening of Thursday 9 March we welcomed speakers from a tour organised by the Co-operative College as part of their Susy project. Veena Nabar from India gave a fascinating presentation, including a film she has made on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands about the Central Tribal Co-operative Ellon Hinengo. The co-op bought ships so they could take more control of their own supply chain, shipping and selling copra (dried coconut kernel), then bringing the ships back from the mainland laden with goods they needed such as fruit, vegetables and fuel. By cutting out the traders in the middle, they receive more money for their own produce and obtain imports at a more reasonable cost.
Veena also told us about the co-op’s response to the devastating tsunami in 2004, when about 2000 islanders lost their lives and far more lost their homes and livelihoods. The village representatives of the co-op opened their homes, if they were still standing, to those without shelter. And for two years they shipped the relief supplies around the islands for free.
After this uplifting story, our second speaker was Manal Ramadan, managing director of Zaytoun (UK), a social enterprise company which aims to create and develop a UK market for Palestinian produce. Manal described the humble beginnings of Zaytoun when a group of friends keen to help the Palestinian olive farmers sold their olive oil from a house in London. The company has grown considerably since, with the tolerance and support, Manal told us, of stockists such as Moira and Charlie from Fairer World. She explained that the prices are comparatively high because of the
circuitous routes lorries are forced to take with goods for exports, the numerous checkpoints they must pass through, and only being able to carry half loads to allow sniffer dogs access.
The original intention was for two women involved in farming and production in Palestine, Bassema and Lamis, to come over for this event and others in the Fortnight. Very regrettably, the British government refused their visa applications just two days before they were due to leave. As you can imagine, this was a huge disappointment to everyone concerned and a puzzling decision when the government has said it wants to improve links with Palestinian businesses. It seems that the government was concerned that, due to their modest incomes and lack of dependents, the women might not return home after the tour. Deeply ironic for a people whose land is so precious to them. If you want to join us in protesting about this, you can find more details on Zaytoun’s website here.