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Maggie Jo's Fair Trade Blog



Birmingham fair trade campaigner Maggie Jo St John has been updating us regularly over the past year from Nicaragua where she was teaching English to coffee growers. Well, now she’s back and, we’re delighted to say, still writing for The Stirrer.

It’s two months since I returned and I suppose I’ve adjusted - sort of.

For the past week we’ve had the delight of Marlon Villareyna staying with us, although by the time this is published he’ll be back among his family and community in El Sontule, Nicaragua.

He’ll not have much free time; he has 4000 small coffee bushes to plant out. This will be a major job as the old bushes have to be removed first and then each new bush planted in with a good dose of organic worm compost.

Then the young bushes will need to be kept clear of weeds and sprayed with Mirabiol - a natural fungus based pesticide. It’ll be two or three years before the first harvest with these new bushes so it’s a huge investment for a small family farm.

The figures he gave us for the family’s coffee harvest - their main source of cash income - were quite stark:

  • A basic market price in Nicaragua of £50 for 50 kg - a price set in New York.
  • An increase to £65 for organic and Fairtrade.
  • £2100 for the family’s harvest.
  • Half of that to cover costs.
  • So £1050 to share between 8 family members: that works out at £130 / year income. And that would be substantially less if it weren’t Fairtrade and organic.

He gave us these figures at Birmingham University in an impressive talk at - given entirely in English - about his life, rural schools and coffee growing. He is passionate about having gone organic and also about more people growing fresh vegetables.

He’s a firm believer in the importance of diversity for small producers as a way to improve their quality of life and the environment.

Marlon movingly reminded us of all the other crops and products that are now available fairly traded and asked us to make the difference for farmers around the world.

He showed us how that little extra effort to seek out fairly traded items and the little extra cost there might be for a quality product, made the difference between survival or not, primary school education or not.

Marlon, at 31, is just completing a university course. He was 17 before he began secondary school studies: in part because of the Contra Revolution; in part because of the need so many families have for the children to work; and in part because some years there wasn’t the money for the basic school book and pen.

He was very clear that important as it is for us to buy fairly traded goods, it is also vitally important that we talk to everyone about fair - or unfair - trade and the injustices and exploitations that exist in world trade.

We took him to the Lake District over the Bank holiday weekend. He loved being outdoors and in the hills; as we scaled Nab’s Scar, above Grasmere, and replied to his question, ‘yes, we are carrying on up’ he set off to run!

At the top, tucking into our picnic, he remarked that he hadn’t been able to run all the way. Three months away from the active farming life had affected his fitness.

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