And one of the awesome things that I learned, courtesy of Neelofer, was the presence of another type of designation: Equitrade. Whereas fair trade provides a fair wage to farmers for cash crops, equitrade attempts to take this one crucial step forward, and empower local people to turn their crops into finished goods. Why is this crucial? Because as I learnt in The End of Food (review coming next week to a Bookworm near you) cash crops earn a relatively low amount of money. The "value adding" comes when the food is processed. Consequently, a breakfast cereal has a much higher value than oat, and chocolate has a much higher value than cacao beans. Futhermore, while cacao beans garner a standard, across the board, market rate, chocolate bars can vary in price depending on a number of factors.
Generally speaking, even with fair trade products, the cash crop comes from the developing world, but the all important "value adding" happens in the developed world. Cacao beans are imported to Switzerland where they are turned into chocolate. I recently saw the documentary The End of Poverty? in which a Kenyan farmer was complaining bitterly that Westerners buy coffee beans from Kenya, but that the roasting, or the value adding process, is done in the developed world, instead of in Kenya. As the farmer points out, if the roasting of coffee continues to be done in the developed world, Kenya can never hope to see much of the immense profits garnered from coffee. Simply put, fair trade, while important, is just not enough.
Now as far as I can tell, equitrade hasn't been around for very long, and in fact, I could only find one company, Malagasy, using the equitrade symbol. (In fact the founders of Malagasy also founded equitrade.) And equitrade isn't likely to become widespread in the future. Because fair trade involves cash crops, it can fit nicely into our current agricultural economy. Nestle can simply buy fair trade coffee beans, and still be Nestle. But since equitrade demands processing to happen in the countries where the crops are harvested, Nestle can't just "become" equitrade. As a result, equitrade is likely to remain a very, very tiny, niche market.
Still, if equitrade is able to make any advances in the niche, "foodie" market, this might have a very real impact on the economies of the developing world. So for now, I'll adopting the buying principle of giving preference to equitrade, and buying fair trade when equitrade is not available. Thanks for the tip, Neelofer!