Posted by: puebloman | November 28, 2009

Market forces

Last Sunday Jude and I drove over the Campo to see our friend Vanessa. She came to stay in our house years ago when we were still middle managers in London and we used the house as a holiday home for us and our friends. Vanessa fell in love with Manolo, who manages the co-operative in Almáchar – a lovely man. She and her ten-year-old daughter Lara now live with him just outside Almáchar. Vanessa’s life has developed from being an artist and stage painter in London to being that, plus an avocado orange and grape farmer in Almáchar.

Anyway, when we arrived at 5 pm Manolo was still asleep. He had been driving all through Saturday night in a coach with his compañeros who had spent all Saturday in Madrid, standing up for food production in Spain. These demonstrations (twelve and a half thousand people on Saturday) are designed to convince the Spanish government that Spain is still an agricultural country, part of Europe’s bread basket.

Two years ago farmers in the valley of the Rio Velez dumped their crop of lemons into the dry river bed, declaring that to do that so would cost them less than sending the lemons to market. Two years later matters are more organised. Demands of the protestors include issues about climate change (southern Europe is likely to become a desert by 2080), the agricultural ineffectiveness of the CAP, the fact that food producers from cattle farmers to lemon farmers can’t make a living that is not supported by social security.

Manolo arose and joined us for a coffee and a chat because he is un español educado – a well mannered Spaniard. He is particularly exercised by “Fair trade” issues. He wants “third world” fair trade principles to be developed for Spain. He wants his fellow farmers one day to receive a living wage, achieved by consumers paying something like what it costs to produce, process and deliver their food. He would like to see a greater percentage of the retail price of food go to the people who produce it. He argues that what happens to coffee in Columbia happens in exactly the same way to cattle, pigs, lemons, olives, grapes and mangos in Spain.

He’s right, isn’t he? Haven’t we, the disgusting obese, over fed,  fat “first world”,  spent our lives subsiding agricultural produce in our own countries by money gained from the manufacturing and banking industries? And haven’t we done so, so that so that the relatively slim “third world” should starve because it can’t compete with us?

And shouldn’t we stop blaming the supermarkets? After all, food supply is just about market forces, isn’t it? So it’s like prostitution and the drug industry isn’t it? Shouldn’t we start blaming the user rather than the supplier? Surely the supermarkets are only “food pimps”. Surely they are the “food pushers”? They cut the throats of farmers on our behalf. When are we going to learn to eat less and better? When are we going to start buying direct from the producer? When are we going to take personal responsibility for the food we eat?

I do not speak as some rich shit who doesn’t have to live to a budget. I know that higher food prices endanger the livelihood of the poor. But I don’t believe that poor people are weak and stupid.

We are not rich. Jude and I have only just earned enough after four years of trading to be able to go to the dentist, but surely most of what we stick into ourselves doesn’t feed us?

Lets have labels on all non Fair trade food that says  “Unfair trade food” and let’s be the sort of people who respond to labels.


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