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Rice, Trade and Justice PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Friday, 13 April 2012 15:44

Today was an enjoyable day spent in the company of three gentlemen I had not met before (though life is never quite that distant...), Howard Msukwa and Henry Kalomba, both from Malawi, and their host in Scotland, John Riches (with whom it turns out I do have a connection as he plays in a music group with my mum in Glasgow!).

Howard and Henry were over in Scotland sponsored by the Scottish Fair Trade Forum for two weeks to visit different groups across the nation to bring some insight into the local situation in Malawi and encourage us to think more about fair trade issues.

Howard is a rice farmer in North Malawi, and also the current chairman of a large association of farmers in that region. Henry works for NASFAM, the National Smallholder Farmers' Association of Malawi, which has oversight for and works with the regional associations to help the small farm owners to think beyond seeing their farming as subsistence farming, and more as a business that can benefit their families and community. [There's more...]

John is involved in Just Trading Scotland that is a recently formed company (though with roots going many years further back) that has been importing and selling Malawi Kilombero Rice since 2009. Through schools, churches, fair trade shops, universities, councils and other groups, they have sold 77 tonnes of rice - directly benefitting producers like Howard and his family.

Howard told us how in his own community as a result of the income from rice sold through Just Trading Scotland, they had decided to ensure that all orphans in the community would have their schooling paid for.

If you are anything like me, you wouldn't really think of Malawi as being a rice producing country. Indeed the economy of Malawi is dominated by agriculture, but more than 80% of farms are operated by smallholders. Howard worked an acre and a half of land only, but this was worked with hand tools - there is no mechanisation, not even a pump that would allow water to be drawn from the nearby river to help irrigate the rice paddies - they are reliant on rainfall to fill the paddies.

Having spent the morning exploring the David Livingstone Centre under the guidance of Peter - and this was an extremely meaningful visit for Henry and Howard - I could not help make the link between the slavery that impoverished families and communities with such brutality in past centuries, and the economic slavery that still exists for so many in other parts of the world. While Livingstone had hoped to bring the benefits of commerce to Africa, for too long what actually happened is that the colonising empires richly benefitted and the people of Africa paid the price. We can and must do better.

In a meeting at the church in the afternoon, with representatives from a number of different churches (including Amy Sheridan from Blantyre Old having just returned from working in Malawi, and Curtis McAfferty (pictured) doing some research for a Fair Trade project at school - perfect timing!), we thought a bit more about what we can do as churches, and as a community. One option is to set up a group to pursue Blantyre becoming a Fair Trade town as part of the wider campaign to see Scotland itself become the second Fair Trade nation (Wales being the first) at the end of this year. This sounded like a great idea, and one with which the churches can take a lead for the community.

A challenging afternoon, and my prayers go with Howard and the thousands of farmers like him in Malawi, with Henry and the NASFAM organisation, and with all those seeking to help these producers find good markets for their products and a means to better their lives and their children's lives in the years to come.

I suspect you will hear more about the 90KG Rice Challenge in the future!

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