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Fairtrade at work: Pacific delegation sees benefits of deal first-hand on visit to Australia

Sean McGowan crouches by bags of coffee beans.
Montville Coffee's Sean McGowan said Fairtrade certification gave him peace of mind.

ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols

Powerful stories of the positive impact of Fairtrade have been shared by the largest delegation of the project's certified producers ever to visit Australia.

Fairtrade advocates for improved working and trade conditions for farmers and workers in developing countries.

Twelve Asia Pacific producers toured the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane and the Tweed Valley.

The delegation included sugar, organic cotton, vanilla, and ginger growers from Fiji, Tonga, Timor-Leste, Samoa and the Solomon Islands.

Delegate Daniel Kinne is a second-generation coffee grower, who represents 2,600 small-scale farmers in the remote, lush green mountains of Papua New Guinea.

Mr Kinne, who is also the chairman of the Highland Organic Agricultural Cooperative in his home country, said the visit gave producers a valuable opportunity to meet importers.

Daniel Kinne next to a coffee roaster and a bag of PNG coffee beans.
Daniel Kinne said seeing his cooperative's bag of coffee in Australia gave him a sense of joy and happiness.

ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols

He said is was good to see his bags in the roasting room at Montville Coffee, Queensland's first certified Fairtrade and organic coffee roaster.

''It gives me this joy and happiness and a sense of satisfaction,'' Mr Kinne said..

He said Fairtrade offered two distinct benefits.

''The Fairtrade minimum price gives us a good price to sustain our operation when prices collapse or drop. And the Fairtrade premium, which we use for empowering our community through community development projects," Mr Kinne said

Children and teachers around a school.
The Highland organic agricultural cooperative has used Fairtrade profits to build schools and homes for teachers.

Supplied: Highland Organic Agricultural Cooperative

In the 11 years since Eastern Highland growers formed a Fairtrade cooperative, their remote, subsistence communities have strengthened ties between each other, built schools, homes for teachers, improved roads and coffee drying techniques and accessed safer water by running a pipe upstream.

"We come from a very remote district where there's little government presence," Mr Kinne said.

He said if teachers could not be attracted to the remote communities, future generations could not learn.

"We have prioritised education, so we build good classrooms for our children and houses for teachers,'' he said.

Community members gather around a running tap.
The Fairtrade premium price has allowed communities to access clean water.

Supplied: Highland Organic Agricultural Cooperative

Fairtrade Australia New Zealand CEO Molly Harriss Olson said Fairtrade gave producers a minimum price to ensure a sustainable livelihood and empowered them to take control of their lives.

"In the Fairtrade world these producers become strong small entrepreneurial businesses in their poor communities and they can help the rest of their community strengthen their futures," Ms Harriss Olson said.

Montville Coffee's Sean McGowan said Fairtrade ensured standards and obligations were met.

"I guess one of the things that always concerned me when a product is uncertified is that there are no assurances, there's always a risk that these particular environments might not have environmental standards which are transparently and authentically audited.

Molly Harriss Olson smiles with people and photos of coffee plantations in the background.
Fairtrade Australia New Zealand CEO Molly Harriss Olson said Fairtrade ensured farmers had a sustainable livelihood.

ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols

"Child labour laws might not be in place, or matters such as the marginalisation of women aren't being addressed.

Tremendous confidence

"With Fairtrade you have standards and obligations which the growers must adhere to, which gives us tremendous confidence with that third party certification, that the product we're bringing to our customers is of the highest standard.

"We want to rehumanise the food chain and our purpose is to do that through coffee," Mr McGowan said.

Coffee is just one of more than 2,500 Fairtrade certified products supplied by 1.65 million farmers and workers globally.

The delegation also visited the Tweed Valley in northern New South Wales to inspect a cane farm and seed-plot and to tour the local sugar mill in Condong.

Daniel Kinne and Sean McGowan smile at the camera.
Daniel Kinne and Sean McGowan: Strengthening the relationship between producer and roaster.

ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols

Pravin Singh, is president of the Lautoka Cane Producers Association which represents about 5,400 of the nearly 17,000 farmers in Fiji, all of whom are Fairtrade certified.

He cited the size of farm land as one of the challenges for cane growers in Fiji.

"We have an average of 8-10 hectares per farmer, which is really not a big land," he said.

Mr Singh said other challenges facing the Fijian cane industry were climate change and the shortage of labour.

Delegates inside the mill taking photos.
Members of the Fairtrade delegation on their visit to Australia.

ABC Rural: Kim Honan

"The sugar cane farmers are ageing and the younger generation doesn't want to come to work in farming, because of prices probably," he said.

Fiji expects to harvest 2.1 million to 2.2 million tonnes of cane this year with the majority of that exported.

"We used to export to Tate & Lyle [a London based sugar refiner] who was our major buyer, but due to the collapse of sugar cane scenarios and the world market we're looking for other markets," he said.

Ms Harriss Olson said Fairtrade Australia New Zealand was also helping farmers to find new export opportunities.