Day 32 – How Fair is Fair Trade?  The rumors, truth and all in between

Day 32 – How Fair is Fair Trade?  The rumors, truth and all in between

Here’s a question that came up my final days in the quinoa fields.  This always happens a great question comes just as I am finishing my work and I don’t really have time to study it.  The two primary Fair Trade USA producers in my study from Sau Sau and Quillacas, lost their contract with their US quinoa buyer Andean Family Famers this year.  According to my calculations they made up about 20% to 30% of the total Fair Trade quinoa sold by this company.  For my research I wanted to know who else was selling to Fair Trade USA so I could have a balanced representation of Fair Trade growers from both programs.

ANAPQUI and CECOAT are two large Fair Trade Europe organizations in my study whose members are in 9 different quinoa communities I have personally visited over the last three years, some more than once.  In addition, I visited 5 non-fair trade communities and plus non- quinoa real producers in the valleys of Anzaldo and the high plains of Poopo.  Having a diverse array of experiences and approaches to learn from creates a more balanced, meaningful study.  So it was important to get more of the Fair Trade US perspective.  After more questioning I was given data by Jacha Inti on the quantity of quinoa they sold at Fair Trade prices in 2017, 30 lottes.  I compared this to the groups they said they were working with.  Each group would have to produce an astronomical amount of quinoa, about 13,000 quintals each in order to meet the full amount of the 2017 Fair Trade orders.  It did not really make sense.

This is when long term development worker, agronomer and quinoa grower Ecebio Calani explained the process to me.  Farmers are in quinoa associations.  When in the association, depending on the type of association they can produce quinoa under strict organic certification and also fair trade ones.  But they also might have other quinoa they grow differently that is not a part of the association – that they have for their own use, their markets, for security, etc.  When an order comes through the association needs to reach out to its members and ask for quinoa to be brought in.  An association may have 100 members and an order for a full tonelada of certified organic quinoa may come in.  that’s 100 bags of quinoa.  A price is given and the member farmers who have the quinoa and want to sell it bring it over for the order.  Sometimes an organization might not have enough farmers responding.  It might be a bad time of the year or the price might be low.  In that case the association needs to look elsewhere for its quinoa – usually in the markets of Challapata.  This is where the contaminated quinoa can come in and even some non- fair trade quinoa too.  The cooperatives take a risk when they buy quinoa from the common market to complete their orders – and that is hoy recently so many certified organic cooperatives have been having their quinoa shipments returned.  They failed the laboratory analysis for pesticide residues., explained Ecebio.

I contacted Jacha Inti and they said they had no Fair Trade quinoa orders for 2018 so far. I thought this was interesting since there is plenty of Fair Trade quinoa on store shelves in the US from customers for purchase quinoa wholesale from Jacha Inti as a US importer, Andean Naturals.  Plus Andean Naturals are the only Fair Trade USA Bolivian quinoa suppliers I know of in the US.

When I asked, how fair trade quinoa can be on sale in t US store shelves without any being purchased in Bolivia, I was told that maybe they had back stock on the product that they were still selling.  Maybe.

It made me wonder though, if a company is buying both Fair Trae and non Fair Trade quinoa and the only difference is the price paid, and they sell both fair trade and non fair trade quinoa products to the public, who’s to verify that the products are not being mixed?  This is a question I began asking Fair Trade leaders here in Bolivia but they had no response for the controls would have to come from Europe or the US they explained.  These questions I will continue to pursue in the US.