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NEWS UPDATES 24 July 2010

Fairtrade program exported to Thailand

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The Fairtrade programme, a price guarantee scheme in the farming sector, is doing its part to help disadvantaged farmers by ensuring a ready market and fair prices for products that offer better deals for producers and the environment, the Bangkok Post reports.

Under the Germany-based Fairtrade movement, a minimum price is guaranteed to farmers in developing countries for each product that receives certification under the programme. Along with minimum prices, the programme also requires organic production techniques and that a premium be paid to producers by traders on top of the agreed price for community development and to ensure fair treatment of labour.

For farmers in rural Thailand, such as the Akha hilltribe people in a remote village in Doi Chaang in Chiang Rai, Fairtrade has transformed lives.

"Once these people had nothing to eat," Wicha Promgyong, chairman of the Doi Chaang Coffee Group said, referring to the Akha farmers who once had no option other than to sell their high quality coffee beans to international dealers at cut-price rates.

Seeing the farmers' plight, Mr. Wicha set up a company to work with them and strived towards getting the company's coffee products Fairtrade certification by the Fairtrade labelling organisation's international body in Germany. "Our company buys coffee beans from farmers at the rate almost twice that set by the Fairtrade price," Mr. Wicha said. "The profit goes back to their communities."

Now, rather than being merely lifted out of poverty, many families in the village are comparatively wealthy.

Since receiving Fairtrade certification, Doi Chaang Coffee's market share has grown and the company has secured market share in countries like Canada and Britain. Doi Chaang Coffee also sells its products locally, but it has not yet been allowed to use the Fairtrade mark here.

"Only a small percentage of our products are on sale here at our own stores and Villa supermarkets," he said. "We didn't try to break into the market here because we are not sure if Thai buyers care about it."

Witoon Panyakul of Green Net Cooperative has also received Fairtrade certification for his Jasmine rice and coconut products. He agrees that penetrating the local market is a challenge, but believes the key is to convince Thai consumers why these products should matter to them.

"We may need to first talk to them about the health benefits of organic products," he said.

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