CAIRO: The advancement of fair trade globally contributes to reducing poverty levels by offering better trading conditions to marginalized producers, according to a workshop in Sawy Culture Wheel on Monday, part of a week-long Fair Trade exhibition.
Fair trade started in the mid-40s, when the US started importing needle work from Puerto Rico. In the 50s and 60s, fair trade activities expanded to Europe, and “third world shops were opened in different parts of the world, constituting points of sales for fair trade products and also playing an active role in campaigning and raising awareness.
Today, there are 1 million certified fair trade producers, selling their products in almost 80,000 fair trade shops in 25 different countries, with a total sales value of 660 million euros, according to the European Fair Trade Association (EFTA).
In the last five years, fair trade has been increasing at an annual rate of 20 percent, with Europe constituting the biggest market for fair trade products, accounting for 65 percent of worldwide sales. In 2005, fair trade represented 0.02 percent of total international trade of commodities for a total 1.6 billion euros.
“Africa’s share of global fair trade revenue is around 26 percent, which is the lowest share compared to both Asia and Latin America, as the latter comes on top due to its magnificent food exports, said Joan Karanja, regional director of the Cooperation of Fair Trade in Africa to Daily News Egypt.
The cooperation is trying to promote fair conditions for African farmers and producers, said Karanja. “An Ethiopian coffee farmer, for instance, gets 40 eurocents for a kilogram of coffee, which makes 200 cups. The customer pays three euros for a cup of coffee in the Netherlands, and the person serving it gets five euros an hour.
“African crafts are not capable of competing with Asian products, Karanja added, “because Asians are able to innovate their products faster than Africans, and can provide better quality and price. Our producers don’t have a close link to the market and the consumers’ needs. This is why we are conducting more business planning and product development trainings for our producers in this region.
Dr Reem Saad, a social anthropologist at the Social Research Center in the American University in Cairo, gave an optimistic outlook for traditional crafts in Egypt, which she believed were “persisting rather than resisting.
“The first reason why I believe so is the symbolic and ritual value of a lot of these crafts, such as the berda, which is a traditional blanket used to cover the dead, or pottery used in fertility rituals she said.
In addition to their symbolic significance, the continuing prevalence of traditional crafts production, in Upper Egypt particularly, may be attributed to a feature of this society whereby natural resources are valued and made use of whenever possible, she said. It might be argued that poverty plays a role in reinforcing this aversion to waste.
“The second factor is not in the context of production, but rather in that of consumption and demand, which is the valuation of traditional crafts as artistic products that appeal to the cosmopolitan elite, she said.
There are various paths through which upper Egyptian crafts have found their ways to urban sophisticated clientele through market venues such as tourist shops in Aswan, Christmas bazaars in Cairo and annual exhibits of development projects, she added.
Saad listed Akhmeem, Nagada and Harraneyya as some of the better known production venues, closely associated with artistic production of particular crafts.
The products of these towns were brought to urban markets through external development interventions, she said, “This comes about through traditional development projects, as in the case of Akhmeem, or entrepreneurial development initiatives, as in the case of Nagada – which started as a project by the Canada Fund – or a state-sponsored intervention, as in the case of the Tally project, she explained.
The first serious fair trade initiative to link the marginalized handicraft producers in Egypt with both local and global markets took place in Sohag and Arish in the early 90s by the North South Consultants Exchange (NSCE). In January 2007, the first Egyptian fair trade organization, Fair Trade Egypt, completed its registration process with the Ministry of Social Solidarity.
Today, the estimated revenue of handicraft fair trade in Egypt is LE 1 million, Anne-Marie Iskandar of Fair Trade Egypt told Daily News Egypt, We have 40 associations and small groups, whose products are being sold at the Egypt Craft Center in Zamalek and exported to 11 different countries. Our priority now is to further expand into agricultural products.