Overlooking the olive groves of the northern West Bank, standing on a patio in the hills of Jenin, Bessama taught me how to make maftoul, a traditional handmade couscous made by rolling bulgar with wholewheat flour, water and salt. Maftoul literally means ‘hand rolled’ in Arabic.
The woman teaching me to make maftoul is part of a co-operative called the Anza Women’s Club and supplies maftoul for international export through Zaytoun an English brand which sells FairtradePalestinian products, including dates, almonds and another grain called freekeh. I am on a trip organised by the British Consulate to learn about Palestinian produce and the Fairtrade Foundation.
Since I was a child I’ve been shocked at how un-Fairtrade food is able to exist. Why aren’t there stricter rules laid down by our government to ensure the fair treatment of the people who make, grow and farm our food? They are supporting us with the gift of life and pleasure after all. The truth is our food system is very complex, the majority of our food is imported from around the world demanding complex logistics and trade. Without certifications the ethical credibility of imported commodities such as tea, coffee, chocolate and sugar is questionable to say the least. However the fair treatment of our farmers and food makers is imperative for us to have a sustainable food system and healthy global society.
One of the best approaches we can take to ensure the ethics of our food is to shorten the food chain and increase the traceability of our ingredients. In many cases all this takes is a trip to a local market or signing up to a local veg box, where we can buy direct from a farmer or closely related sales person, and learn from them how they grow their food. However when we buy more global products direct trade becomes more difficult. This is where certifications and third party audits such as Fairtrade and the Soil Association become vital in maintaining and creating a sustainable food system.
The Fairtrrade Foundation set a minimum price for a farmers product that ensures a good rate of pay no matter what happens with the market rate. However if the market rate is higher than the rate set by Fairtrade it must be paid. They also certify that the workers are paid properly and offer social premiums for services and infrastructure from schools to toilets helping support local communities. Fairtrade encourages traditional and organic farming methods through offering higher prices. This premium is sent to a co-operative bank account. The farmer members then decide together how to allocate the money which must be approved by the local Fairtrade committee. In recent years the Palestinian Fairtrade committee Al Muqadasa have directed premiums towards a local women’s centre, school playgrounds and the collective purchase of farming tools.
Manu’s produce is Fairtrade certified. This allows her and her colleagues to make a secure living in an otherwise insecure situation.