Wednesday, October 3, 2007

To Buy African? -Have Your Say


There is another really interesting BBC Have Your Say question this week I just had to highlight it, especially because it relates to the fair trade debate from the last post. This week's multi-part question is:

When you go shopping, do you consider where what you buy comes from, or do you just look at the price?

Do we do enough to support African farmers, suppliers and companies or is it more prestigious to buy western products?

African countries are currently negotiating a new trade deal with the European Union which could possibly lead to African markets being fully open to foreign produce.

Could Africa withstand such competition or does it still need some form of protective trade barrier?


After researching fair trade for the last post, I was able to clearly explain the benefits of buying fair trade today in the produce section where I work. I recommended a fair trade South African navel orange over a non-fair trade organic valencia. The customer really did care that the African farmer was treated well and received a fair price. That being said, I'll share a few of the posts at the BBC forum that really characterize the trade issue:

"You see, African goods are mostly farm products and raw produce. In Africa there is the mentality that if you have a European, American or Japanese goods you are better off than some one else. This is an economic taste of the poor. African consumers preference is guided by taste."

Obwota Omwony, Magwi, Sudan

"If people really want to help Africa, they should boycott buying their products which would send a clear message to the corrupt African governments that they should make their people's welfare a priority instead of relying on the rest of the world to constantly bail them out. This may sound rather cold - but when handful of men live in total luxury while the rest of country starves..."

Russ Higgins, Leamington Spa, United Kingdom

"With so many of us surviving on nothing (never mind the usual nonsensical reference to $1 a day), how many of us actually have the means to buy anything, home-made or imported? This is yet another attempt to divert critical attention from the real issue: our rulers' inability or unwillingness to create the basic institutions and infrastructure, without which we can never be in a position to engage in any sustainable economic activity."

AKPAN, Kent, UK/Nigeria

"The west is beginning to address the problems of Africa now; by re-addressing the unfair trade barriers between Africa and the EU. It is about time, the EU consumer, put their money where their mouth it; by actually buying "made in Africa" instead of the local produce, to help eradicate poverty and improve developments in Africa. Buy African produce instead of attending the so called " make poverty history" concerts with no African artist on the list!. I know which one I will go for."

modupe, London

"African goods should always come first. If we Africans fails to patronise our own, who else is going to? By buying our own products, we are keeping the money in the continent, creating job and boosting our economy. We Africans need to cultivate the habit of patronising our own first before going to the West or East. It is time for the West to open up their market for inflow of African products. Tit for tat is fair play."

Omorodion Osula, Boston, USA


Alright, now time for my comment:

"With the subsidies that European states are able to pay their producers, removing trade barriers would hurt African producers significantly. Even food "aid" from the United States ends up competing with African goods. African producers have it hard enough already and they can use all the help they can get. I say if you can, buy African. The nature of the world market is incredibly flawed and must be changed, but in the meantime let's make it as fair as it can be."

My comment was informed by a New York Times article about the Aid organization called CARE. CARE turned down millions in federal funding for food aid this year because the distribution system is designed mostly to benefit American companies as opposed to feeding the hungry, and highly subsidize American goods could compete with goods produced domestically in Africa. I admire CARE's stance in opposing the food aid system and I hope they get more support from it. When it comes down to it, the realm of development could use a lot development itself in actually becoming useful for raising standards of living and lifting people out of poverty.

As I took a break from working, near the end of my shift tonight I sipped on a pomegranate and goji berry tea made by Honest Tea with fair trade rooibos from South Africa (red tea) and damn did it taste good. African products can be delicious, I just wish they didn't all come from South Africa.

Photos by Evelyn Hockstein/New York Times

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