Fairtrade does make a difference

Pauline Scott Rocommon’s status as a Fairtrade town was celebrated at a function in Gleeson’s on Monday night last, as guests heard how Fairtrade does make a difference to communities across the world, including that of special guest Ugandan coffee producer Nimrod Wambette. Guests at the function heard from members of the organising committee, including John Tiernan, who spearheaded the drive to make Roscommon a Fairtrade town; Mary Gleeson, whose business Gleeson’s Townhouse is the flagship Fairtrade business in Roscommon and also from Nimrod Wambette, a coffee producer from Uganda who was the special guest for the occasion. Chairman of the Roscommon Fairtrade Committee, John Tiernan, praised his fellow committee members who came on board and made the venture possible. He also praised the contribution made by local teachers and students who took part in the Christmas card competition. The decision by the Roscommon and District Soccer League to use Fairtrade footballs in the league was also lauded and Mr. Tiernan said was a practical way of helping people across the world. ‘From a business point of view, the quality is guaranteed and all the produce is ethically produced,’ said local business woman Mary Gleeson. ‘Gleeson’s have always supported Fairtrade and we are very glad to get involved as the flagship business,’ said Mary. Deputy Mayor Tony Ward said that he was delighted to see so many young people present and added that it was appropriate that the launch be held in the middle of Fairtrade fortnight. 60 towns across the country are currently involved in the Fairtrade campaign and 31 towns have been declared Fairtrade towns. He praised local businesses that had supported the venture, including the Abbey Hotel, Melting Pot, Roscommon County Council canteen, Gleeson’s, Dunnes Stores, Harrison Café and Molloy’s. Concluding, he urged shoppers to buy Fairtrade products. ‘This county is heavily reliant on agriculture and farmers rely on getting a fair price for our product.’ Fairtrade Ireland was represented at the event by Emilia Main and she paid tribute to the work done to date by the Roscommon committee. Introducing the special guest, Ugandan coffee producer Nimrod Wambette, Gerry Browne noted the parallels between the two men. Mr. Wambette is aged 52, married with seven children and is a small farmer and son of a small farmer. Gerry Browne is aged 55, married and has seven children and is a small farmer, son of a small farmer.  Mr. Wambette explained the difference that Fairtrade makes to him and his community. He lives in the foothills of Mount Elgon in Uganda. Mount Elgon consists of five peaks, one of which is Masaba, 4,161 metres above sea level. The mountain is known as Masaba to the indigenous people, but was named Mount Elgon by the British who controlled the country for 62 years. Around 200,000 people live in the foothills around the mountain, 8,000 of whom grow coffee as their main cash crop. Nimrod is a member of a co-op of 400 women and men who live around the mountain. He is also involved in a second co-op which is an umbrella co-op and which processes and markets the coffee. He is also a member of the board of East Africa Fairtrade Network which has its headquarters in Tanzania.  ‘For a long time the farmers have produced coffee and have sold the coffee, but the beneficiaries have been the traders who come and buy. Their motive is profit. They are coming with a weighing scale that is not regulated. Up to five years ago they would come up to the farm gate to buy coffee and the farmer has a very low price.’ ‘When the Fairtrade movement came into activity in the last ten years, we have seen hope, in that through Fairtrade we have a guaranteed price. The Fairtrade minimum price is $1.21 per lb of coffee and that has been the minimum. Through Fairtrade we are guaranteed that. If the price goes up, so good. Now it cannot go below $1.21 which is much, much better than it was.’ Mr. Wambette also spoke of the benefits of the social premium which accrues to a community through involvement with Fairtrade. The co-op which he is involved in decided to use the money raised to buy mosquito nets because malaria is the number one killer in Uganda. Because of the huge demand, it was decided to give expectant mothers priority when it came to getting the nets. Collecting water for household and farm needs is another huge problem and many children miss school because they have to collect water for the family’s needs. The Fairtrade social premium was used to extend the water supply using plastic pipes, to a further 26 places, which made a huge difference to the lives of many families. A democratic decision was also made to provide benches to local schools. ‘Also crossing the mountain range, you have to go through a stream. We provided tree poles which we placed across the stream for farmers to walk across and that is slowly solving problems.’ Money is also provided to increase capacity in local groups, providing training and teaching people about their democratic rights. Concluding, he thanked the people of Ireland, saying, ‘this country may not be as rich as other countries but it has provided more aid to the people of the third world than any other country I know. I think it is the compassionate spirit of the people of Ireland.’ He said that through compassion ‘we can together bring a fairer world where we all live happily without begging, but with trading with each other and getting a fair price because right now 52 percent of my country people live on half a dollar a day.’