Fairtrade Fortnight: SUSY speaker tour hits the north!

The impact of Fairtrade and co-operative working on life and work in other countries was s brought to life during a series of events for Fairtrade Fortnight.

As a partner in the three-year inter national SUSY project, which aims to promote the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE), the Co-operative College co-ordinated a speaker tour across the north of England featuring guest visitors from Zaytoun, along with Co-operative College Associate Veena Nabar.

Zaytoun is a social enterprise founded in 2003 which markets Palestinian produce in the UK. It was chosen as the SSE best practice case study by development education charity Think Global, Another UK partner in the SUSY project. Veena Nabar is an economist and expert in co-operatives and made a short film about co-operatives and coconut production in the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands as a best practice case study for the Co-operative College.

In Newcastle, the visitors were hosted by Northumbria University, took part in events celebrating International Women’s Day, visited local Fairtrade initiatives, and attended the inaugural Fairtrade business awards. In York, they were hosted by York Fairtrade Forum.

In the Yorkshire village of Holmfirth volunteers from the Fair Traders Co-operative cooked up a delicious Fairtrade meal using Palestinian ingredients for members and local people. Taysir Arbasi, from Zaytoun’s office in Palestine, explained movingly that Fairtrade is a ‘network and bridge between consumers and producers’, and offers dignity and a hope for the future.

The speakers also met local people interested in Fairtrade and co-operatives during a Fairtrade open day at Rochdale Pioneers Museum, enjoyed a Fairtrade afternoon tea at a church in Sale, and took part in a webinar for Co-operative College members.

The visitors also met the next generation of co-operators at two events for co-operative schools, hosted by New College in Huddersfield and Chorlton High School in Manchester.

Veena’s short film about the Andaman and Nicobar Islands was very popular at all events. Particular moments – such as young men using a rudimentary system to scale tall coconut trees, and motorists rushing to the petrol pumps for the infrequent deliveries of petrol – always raised a laugh. She set the context for life in the remote islands, and described how they are organised by a tribal and family system, in which co-operation comes naturally. She also spoke about the ways in which coo-operatives were able to respond rapidly to the boxing day tsunami of 2004. She shared the ways in which co-operatives play a part in all different aspects of life in the islands, from providing petrol and groceries to creating employment to assisting with funerals, and have introduced innovations such as purchasing ships in order to expand and meet their members’ needs.

Cathi Pawson, one of the co-founders, introduced Zaytoun, explained that it started when she and others returned from a trip to Palestine with bottles of olive oil which were distributed to friends and acquaintances to show solidarity with Palestinian farmers. Cathi thinks that ‘SSE is a much richer and more satisfying experience than just trade – it’s an imaginative and creative way of working’. In 2009, olive production became Fairtrade certified for the first time, and today Zaytoun-labelled Palestinian Fairtrade and organic olive oil is distributed to co-ops, churches, shops and other food outlets across the UK, along with other products including the grains maftoul and freekeh, the fragrant herb mix za’atar, almonds, and dates.

Olive cultivation may have begun in Palestine, and the annual olive harvest is a joyous occasion involving all the family. However, Cathi explained how farmers in Palestine face a number of difficulties associated with living in occupied territory, from a lack of access to their land and threats of violence and intimidation when harvesting their crops to a scarcity of water and difficulty transporting products and accessing markets.

The ongoing challenges faced by Palestinian farmers was reinforced by the last-minute denial of visas for Bassema Barahmeh and Lamis Zamzam, who were due to take part in the tour and were looking forward to sharing their experiences with people in the UK. Both women work for co-operatives in Palestine, and Bassema is an expert at rolling maftoul, a laborious process passed down through the generations which results in a wheat product resembling a large-grain couscous.

Manal Ramadam, Managing Director of Zaytoun, spoke about the ways in which Fairtrade supports the livelihood of Palestinian farmers. She explained that trade between the UK and Palestine, and raising awareness of Palestinian culinary heritage with the public in the UK, helps the producers feel less isolated, and acts as a reminder that they are producers rather than victims.

As well as sharing their knowledge and experience with UK audiences, the speakers visited a number of co-operatives to find out more about co-operative models in the UK, from worker co-operatives Suma and Unicorn to co-operative schools, one of the newest and most rapidly growing types of co-operatives in the UK.

To find out more about SUSY, and to watch Veena's film, visit http://uk.solidarityeconomy.eu.

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