Justice Perspective: Helping small farmers to make big change in the world

Thu, Dec 22nd 2016 08:00 am
Catholic Charities of Buffalo
Deacon Don Weigel
Deacon Don Weigel

Each of us is called to do our part as consumers to ensure that the economy works for everyone. Pope Francis declared, "We must recover the whole sense of gift, of gratuitousness, of solidarity ... This home is a place that teaches charity, a 'school' of charity, which instructs me to go encounter every person, not for profit, but for love."

We are connected to different kinds of workers around the world in many ways through the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the gifts we give. We live in an interconnected world, and everything we buy affects someone else's livelihood, for better or for worse.

We can live our Catholic values as consumers through our daily purchasing decisions. One way to do that is to purchase items that are Fair Trade. Fair Trade provides farmers and workers in developing countries with a fair price for their produce, helping protect them from damaging changes in world market prices. They also receive an additional sum of money for investment in social, economic and environmental development in their community, such as educational and medical facilities.

Let's take an example of coffee. In a conventional trade structure, the coffee will go from the small farmer through seven or eight steps until it reaches your morning cup. And each step charges a price, leaving very little for the grower.

But in a Fair Trade system, the coffee will go from the small farmer, to the famer's co-op with other farmers, to Equal Exchange (the distributor), to your cup. That's it. By eliminating so many steps, Equal Exchange is able to provide better payment to the growers themselves, and also uses the additional monies to help fund projects where the famers and growers live.

Catholic Relief Services has partnered with Equal Exchange and some other Fair Trade distributors in order to help establish fair prices, stable working conditions, cooperative workplaces, and sustainable farming practices. By supporting Fair Trade practices, CRS respects the dignity of the worker by providing living wages, shows solidarity with our brothers and sisters overseas, and respects the environment by using sustainable practices.

In his recent encyclical, "Laudato Si - On Care for Our Common Home," Pope Francis calls us to an ecological conversion, a renewal of our commitment to care for the earth and our environment, and to use our efforts to keep the earth from being ravaged. Fair Trade operations also work only in situations where the growers and farmers use practices that enhance the sustainability of the earth so that the harvests can be balanced and continue for many years.

Catholic Relief Services' partner Equal Exchange has a slogan that says it all: "Small Famers, Big Change." We can help make a big change in small farmers' lives through Fair Trade.

A number of parishes in our diocese have been offering Fair Trade products like coffee for a number of years.

To learn more about Fair Trade, you can go to www.crsfairtrade.org, and if you are interested in offering Fair Trade coffee and other products to your parish or group, you can contact me at deacondon@gmail.com or contact Mary Grace at phgmlggrace@yahoo.com.

Deacon Don Weigel is the associate public policy coordinator at Catholic Charities of Buffalo and is a Global Fellow with Catholic Relief Services. He may be reached at deacondon@gmail.com.   

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