Before setting up Shropshire Good Food Partnership I was working in international development. I spent time in many different countries working with community groups, non governmental organisations and social enterprises to support farmers to grow more using agro-ecological practices. For these rural farmers getting a fair price for their surplus produce was the biggest issue. Smallholders across the world are very productive, but without the economies of scale to reach markets individual livelihoods and the viability of small-scale farming systems is under threat.
From 2015 to early 2020 I was living in Uganda leading a social enterprise called TruTrade, providing smallholder farmers with a reliable route to market and fair prices for their produce. Our mission was to increase smallholder farmer incomes through integrating them into sustainable value chains. We did this by bringing together the ‘supply power’ of millions of small-scale producers, to meet the demand of local, regional and international markets. We developed Trade Transparency Solutions to make rural agricultural markets work better for farmers, aggregators and buyers.
Smallholder farmers across the world often work in unorganized staple food markets, with limited transport, lack of finance for aggregation and no connection between producers and final buyers. Farmers are often forced to sell to middlemen for low prices, off-takers struggle to get a reliable supply of quality produce and rural employment opportunities are limited. With TruTrade we were working on getting fair prices for staple crops such as maize, soybean and sorghum, as well as those for export like avocados.
We established networks of village agents who provided our service to their rural communities. We developed a mobile-enabled trading and payment platform to enable collaborative supply chain management, allowing price setting, tracking of produce from collection to delivery and of payments from buyer to farmer. TruTrade also provided trade finance so that farmers could be paid ‘Cash-on-the-bag’ on delivery of produce and to cover transaction costs to get produce to buyers. We would carry out market analysis, identify buyers and manage supplier relationships; working as an ethical broker on behalf of farmers.
There is a huge amount of innovation and entrepreneurship in East Africa and new technologies from mobile money to blockchain make it possible for traceability and transparency form field to fork. The fair trade movement has laid the foundation for a whole range of approaches and initiatives that now exist. I was involved for a brief time with World Fair Trade Organisation, on their Food and Farming working group as we explored ways in which producer organisations could be best served within their more systemic approach. I also think it’s interesting to see how organisations like FairChain are promoting inclusive business models and looking at what fair means for processing as well as sourcing. However the impact of all this comes back to consumer demand.
As SGFP our mission is to create a food system good for people, place and planet. Most of our focus is on ‘local’, but it's important to recognize that we are doing this within a global context and that we still rely a lot on international supply chains. We can as individuals use our purchasing power for good, both here and in countries far away.
The old slogan of the Agenda 21 movement "Think Global, Act Local" is as important as ever. Although as I consider 'what is mine to do' I am led to work on very local issues, I do so holding the global dimension very present. For those of us living in Shropshire one of the ways of acting locally for global impact is in how we spend our money on imported food. I am not just thinking about coffee, tea, chocolate, cashew nuts and avocados, but also rice and pasta, beans and lentils. All can be sourced fairly through local retailers that stock fair trade products or form a food group and go direct to places like Suma or Essential Trading to get at wholesale cost price. Crowd Farming is also worth checking out, oranges are in season at the moment!
During Fairtrade Fortnight, it’s a good time to look at a what you are buying that has to come for afar because it just doesn’t grow here and finding fairly traded sources. I hope this blog series brought together from our members will both inform and inspire you in that.
Shropshire Good Food Partnership