Working with a grass roots Non-Governmental Organisation in Nepal as I have for over 30 years has given me an interesting perspective on the concept of poverty, development, aid and trade. In particular, what I have learned is that both poverty and development aren’t just about money. Some of the richest communities I have seen live on around £100 a year, but they have homes (sometimes 2, or even 3!), land, livestock, full larders, social care including for children and the elderly, rich culture and strong community relations to share the resources they have, including labour, time and food.
Development in the form of poverty alleviation has usually viewed such richness as a hindrance to 'progress' as it does not use money as a primary source of wealth. Cultures are led to believe that they are 'poor' and the only way to not be is to earn more money. Both aid and trade have been pursued by loans and resulting enforced policies of 'structural re-adjustment' that included movement away from traditional self-reliance to growing cash crops for international markets, in order to earn foreign currency to pay back the loans. Therefore popular adages such as “trade not aid” can have a double-edged meaning, where both can be detrimental to the sovereign state.
This is why the concept of Fair Trade is so important, as it gives nations and cultures an opportunity to compete in global (and local) markets without compromising the integrity of local self-reliance and self-determination. The issue for the Himalayan Permaculture Centre, who I work with in Nepal, is about choice, and design. Good land-use design can allow both niche cash crops such as cardamom, garlic, ginger and other spices, to be produced in vibrant agro-forestry and minimum-tillage agroecological systems, that conserve and regenerate soil and water and increase biodiversity – all of which benefit staple food crops as well. Diversification can also provide more fruit and vegetables for local nutrition as well as to sell in the market. Design of cooperative structures to manage the marketing then ensures profits are returned to a community structure designed to be equitable and linked to the ecological farming base. It’s a win-win situation and one that fair trade can really contribute to, where consumers can support livelihoods of both local and far-off communities. And it’s where concerned citizens can help make a difference - even though they may live in a totally different culture – by showing empathy, and 'voting with their wallet'.
Advisor Himalayan Permaculture Centre www.himalayanpermaculture.com
Applewood Permaculture Centre