When a Finnish consumer buys Fairtrade products, in most cases that product comes from Africa or Latin America. But global poverty can be found closer to home, even in the countries that previously were our neighbors.
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are ranked lower in terms of human development by UNDP than Namibia and South Africa. However, you rarely hear about the poverty in Central Asia (with the exception of Afghanistan) in Finland. The little space the region gets in the papers is mainly devoted to border disputes and internal unrest.
In November I attended the first Fairtrade conference in Central Asia, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The event was organized with support from the UNDP Aid for Trade programme. At the conference local farmers, businesses and Fairtrade International’s representatives explored the opportunities offered by Fairtrade.
The global consumption of Fairtrade products has grown despite the recession, and undoubtedly there is also room for new Fairtrade products from Central Asia. For now the region only has a few Fairtrade certified producers but there is potential for much more. The farmers in the area know how to do their work well and are proud of the quality of their product for a reason.
The recent changes to the Fairtrade standards have improved the opportunities for farmers to benefit from Fairtrade. The system has made it easier to combine products that are Fairtrade certified and those that cannot be certified.
Central Asian farmers produce, among other things, dried fruit. The market for dried fruits sold as such, for example raisins, is quite limited in Europe. But if Fairtrade raisins could be sold to consumers in muesli for example, the demand would increase substantially.
One obstacle that these products could face in trying to gain access to the European markets could be that ethically conscious consumers do not perceive Central Asia as a region that would benefit from Fairtrade. In the media and in the minds of the consumers poverty looks like Africa. Consumers don’t necessarily realize they should demand ethical production from Central Asian products also.
One of the goals for Fairtrade Finland this year is to deepen and diversify the knowledge that Finnish consumers have of Fairtrade and Fairtrade producers. Fairtrade benefits producers on three continents, regardless of whether the beneficiaries live under the sun of the tropics or in the freezing cold of 20 degrees below zero. Everywhere in the world people have a right to a sustainable livelihood and decent working conditions whether their region’s traditional living quarters are a grass thatched hut or in a yurt.