CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 14 April 2018

Print Version    Email to Friend
Fighting poverty through fair trade

Fifty-seven-year-old Pepito Alvarez and his wife Conchita, are among one of the thousands of small mountain subsistence farmers who have lived just below the poverty line all their  lives. 
 
He and his fellow villagers in the Zambales mountain range just keep their families above the poverty line. When there is a mango harvest, they do much better with the Fair-Trade price they get from Preda Fair Trade project for their mangoes. But there has been no big mango harvest for two years. 
 
Is it because of a natural cycle or is it because of climate change and the untimely rains that wash away the mango blossoms? 
 
“Bahala na (what will be, will be),” says Pepito. “That’s the way of nature, we accept it.” 
 
They do accept reality, harsh and unkind as it is, and they work harder planting vegetables and kamote, the sweet potato that is their survival crop. 
 
But poverty is the way of life that they have endured all their lives. They live day-to-day without running water or electricity and have hardly heard of the Internet. The only technology they know is an old model mobile phone shared by many in the village and they hike down the mountain to an electric point to recharge it.
 
They are members of the indigenous people known as Aeta. They are wise, experienced survivors whose ancestry goes back 30,000 years perhaps and they live in small bamboo houses with grass or nipa roofs. These are not strong dwellings in a typhoon. 
 
They were one hunters and gatherers, but with the loss of the rain forests to the mining and logging corporations, they became subsistence farmers.
 
Presently, the Preda Fair Trade project provides them with all the cement, hollow blocks and steel bars needed for making several community toilets. Labour is also paid in some village projects when they are too poor to stop working in their mountainside farms. 
 
The community project to provide toilets and wells is ongoing in eight villages. It has so far provided eight toilets and five hand pumps and steel pipes for making a well to pump clean drinking water. 
 
The community will avoid cholera and diseases from dirty contaminated water. These projects are in addition to the fair earnings when the farmers get high prices for their pico mango harvest. These are processed and turned into organic mango puree for making many products when exported to Germany.
 
In recent years, they have achieved, through the farmers association, organic status. They are certified by the prestigious certification organisation, Naturland, of Germany. It is the first certified organic mango product in the Philippines. 
 
The earnings from sales helps the farmers and also supports the children who were sexually abused and exploited by local and foreign paedophiles and their mafia supporters.
 
The Aeta farmers are resilient in the face of hardship and poverty. 
 
However, in recent years, while economic growth has helped as many as 3.7 million Filipinos get out of extreme poverty, there are still 5.1 million more in extreme poverty and many more below the poverty line. 
 
That’s unacceptable. Any kind of poverty in this wealthy country is unacceptable. But the wealth is not shared with the millions still in dire poverty in rural villages and in teeming urban slums.
 
There was a time when Pepito and Conchita and the villagers allowed the mango fruits to fall to the ground and be eaten by pigs and the children. 
 
“When I went to the town and offered my mangoes to the local traders, they only paid me four pesos a kilo,” he said. 
 
“We cannot live on that so we did not harvest the mangos. But since the Preda Fair Trade offered us a much higher fair price and a bonus of two pesos a kilo, we now harvest every single mango fruit.”
 
The distance and imbalance between rich and poor has continued and increased in 2017. There were 14 Filipino (US dollar) billionaires according to the Forbes list. This follows the trend in the growth of wealth among the world’s richest people. 
 
A recent report from Oxfam had the headline: Richest one percent bagged 82 per cent of wealth created last year-poorest half of humanity got nothing. The report explained that as many as 3.7 billion people saw no increase in their wealth. The rich got it they say. 
 
In the report, Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, said, “The billionaire boom is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system. The people who make our clothes, assemble our phones and grow our food are being exploited to ensure a steady supply of cheap goods and swell the profits of corporations and billionaire investors.”
 
Pepito and Conchita are among them. The Fair Trade project that is paying a higher price for their mangoes is a big help, but not enough. If the climate will allow them to have a harvest, it will help them improve their lives but they need much more. 
 
Government intervention is needed and a small share of the national wealth in an expanding growing economy that ought to be for all, not just the few.
 
 
 
Father Shay Cullen
www.preda.org