How to feed the world’s poorest without growing more food

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I was invited to an event held by the ACT Fair Trade Collective last night. The topic was on food sustainability and fair trade. There were four speakers:

  • Mandy Nearhos, Co-convenor ACT Fair TradeCollective;
  • Molly Harriss, the newly appointed CEO of Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand;
  • Debbie Hunt, NSW/ ACT Campaign and Engagement Coordinator, Oxfam Australia; and
  • Federico Davila, ANU PHD Student specialising in food sustainability

In the past 2 years I have been searching for answers to help the world’s poorest. My search led me to setting up Oz Fair Trade in the hope that I could help some people to improve their living standards through their skills and a fair trading system. At the moment Oz Fair Trade only deals with handicrafts, which many women rely upon for a sustainable income, as land becomes a scarce resource in many developing countries. I was thinking about expanding into food such as coffee and tea, but decided to postpone the plan because there are a few businesses in Australia that are doing a wonderful job in this field (such as Republica).

The night was very educational for me, as my knowledge of fairtrade concentrated on handicrafts not food. You’d think that farmers are the ones closest to food so why are they starving? One answer is that farmers are pressured by global economic systems to grow “cash crops” such as cotton. It’s all good when they get a good return, but the reliance on a single product inevitably makes one vulnerable to price changes. Other answers include their reliance on good weather conditions, unfair prices set by powerful buyers, corruption, land grabs etc.

The problem is not that we are not growing enough food. The problem is that a lot of the food is wasted instead of feeding the people who need it most. The world food system, as part of the global trade system, is broken. Governments have been shown to be powerless in terms of driving changes. NGOs have been doing great jobs such as pushing for Fair Trade. There are many ways to fix the system e.g. fairtrade, microfinance, microinsurance, addressing climate change etc.

As consumers, we have so much power that we don’t realise. Again and again, it has been shown that companies do listen if we are loud enough and care enough. Oxfam recently exposed ANZ’s involvement in a sugar plantation investment in Cambodia which forced hundreds of farmers to leave their farms. This contradicts ANZ’s social responsible policy. As consumers, we can hold them accountable. Be sure to be loud and clear.

So what can you do? You can:

  • choose fairtrade certified products whenever possible
  • spread the message of fairtrade among your friends and colleagues
  • waste less food and start a worm farm
  • buy locally produced food helps to reduce food miles
  • sign petitions to stop land grabs and unfair trade
  • support brands that really respect people and planet
  • vote for politicians who care about climate and people
  • write to companies who don’t have a social responsible policy or don’t obey them
  • make some noise on social media to show that you care
  • eat more veggie helps to reduce demand for meat which has higher carbon footprints, and veggie is good for you
  • lend small amounts to the poorest through organisations like Kiva and Good Return. From personal experience, the repayments have been excellent
  • choose superannuation funds such as Australian Ethical Super that invest only in ethical companies

etc.

Molly pointed out that in UK more than 80% know about fairtrade and more than 50% regularly buy fairtrade. In Australia, 50% know about fairtrade and 15% regularly buy fairtrade. This confirms my feeling that a lot more can be done in Australia.

If you are interested in how to fix the world food system, you can find useful information on Oxfam’s website. If you are interested in fairtrade handicrafts please checkout my not-for-profit social business Oz Fair Trade where customer service is guaranteed!

1st Year Anniversary

Aniversario

It’s hard to believe that it has been a year since I founded Oz Fair Trade (initially known as Global Handmade). What a year! I still remember coming back to Australia from Southeast Asia with a burning desire to help the kind and talented people who lived in such poverty. The images of bare footed children selling things on streets were popping up in my head over and over again during Christmas, when my own nieces and nephews were spoiled with endless toys. I felt depressed, and I wanted to cry. Nelson Mandala once said that

“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”

I have been donating. I have been volunteering. But I felt that I could do a lot more. How? How can I help these people? I read widely and brainstormed. It didn’t take long before I came to the conclusion that I could help these people to find a market for their products in Australia. I would source from fair trade suppliers and sell their products in Australia via e-commerce.

I’ve always loved Oxfam, and my research has introduced me to a few other fair traders in Australia. However, most of them are quite small, and over the years Oxfam has scaled back its retail operation. In contrast, fair trade has flourished in Europe, America and New Zealand. I strongly believed that Australians are kind hearted and generous. There is no reason why fair trade can’t flourish here! I wanted to introduce fair trade products to people who normally wouldn’t have thought of buying fair trade. I wanted to help to expand the fair trade market in Australia. I believed I could do it.

So there I was, setting up a website and a business with no relevant experience or knowledge whatsoever. The first version of the website was horrible, but at the time, it was a great achievement and I was really excited when I got my first order. Over the next 12 months, I read widely and learned a lot about website development. Then in October I made the move to rebrand and launched a brand new website (www.ozfairtrade.org). I have been working very hard, managing both a start-up and a full time job. I have made mistakes along the way, but I have learned so much. Looking back, I am very proud of what I have achieved in the last 12 months, and I already have great plans for the next 12 months. The best thing that happened in the last 12 months is the number of people who have kindly supported Oz Fair Trade and made me believe in myself. The next 12 months will not be easy, but it will be great!

Thank you all for supporting Oz Fair Trade, and I promise that you will never be let down!

How to buy fair trade Christmas presents

I’m certainty no expert at gift shopping…in fact…my mum used to exchange all the Christmas presents that I gave her…but…since I started Oz Fair Trade (formerly known as Global Handmade), I have improved my gift purchase skills a lot…at least that’s what I believe 🙂

Now I want to share with you some tips about buying fair trade Christmas presents. Why fair trade presents? Because by buying fair trade presents, you are not only showing your love towards someone you care, but also you are also showing that person that you care for a better world and people who you have never met but who desperately needed your help.

By buying fair trade presents, you are giving twice.

There are some misconception that fair trade means higher prices. This is totally untrue. Most products sourced conventionally go through a number of middlemen, and the end price is often similar or even higher than fair trade products. The way fair trade market works is that the retailer deals directly with the artisans and/or the representatives of the artisan groups. This means that we as retailers are helping to cut down the middlemen cost and that we have better control over the quality of the products and the fair work practices of the artisan groups that we work with.

The end result is a fair price for the producers and a competitive price for the consumers. 

So…this Christmas, will you buying fair trade?

How to buy for mothers and grandmothers?

If you have a mother like mine…good luck…just kidding 😛

I have found that hand made cushions and table runners seem to be popular with middle age female customers. They appreciate the details, the traditional methods and the uniqueness of each product. We have a few such beautiful cushions. All cushions come with Innergreen inserts which are made in Australia from recycled plastic water bottles. Now that’s eco-friendly all the way!

Our mothers and grandmothers will also appreciate Christmas tree decorations. We have very cute handmade angle and animal decorations.

How to buy for fathers and grandfathers?

I share your pain…it can be very difficult…but not this year! How about a recycled bombshell bottle opener? The coolest bottle opener ever! Check out other items in Gifts For Him.

How to buy for husband?

We offer you something more budget friendly and long lasting than PS4, latest phone etc. How about a bomb necklace for a cool gen or a beautiful travel photography calendar that supports over 40 Australian not-for-profits? Check out other items in Gifts For Him.

How to buy for wife? 

Again, we offer you more budget friendly options that make equally wonderful presents. How about a hand woven luxury silk scarf? I have created a category Gifts For Her to make your shopping easier. Personally I think a woman will always want more jewellery…you can easily find something cute, beautiful or outstanding to suit your wife’s style. Even if fashion jewellery is not her thing, I’m sure she’ll be intrigued by our special recycled bombshell jewellery range.

How to buy for siblings / friends / colleagues?

My tip is buy what interests them. We have categories for special interests such as vegan, eco-friendly, hand weaving, natural dye, embroidery and knitting. At each category level you can also shop by price. We hope to make your shopping experience as easy and enjoyable as possible!

How to buy for children?

It’s so hard to buy for little ones…their interests are constantly changing…

Our most popular children’s products are finger puppets hand knitted by Bolivian women. An eco-cushion is also a great choice to decorate a kid’s room.

How to buy for someone who has everything?

…try our Most Unique category. Good luck!

Greeting Cards

This Christmas, why not send a unique handmade greeting card along with your presents? We have greeting cards made with printed silk and jute paper. Check them out!

All purchases can be upgraded for individual gift wrapping for just $1 extra. This option can be added in the shopping cart. I will be personally doing all the wrapping, and I’m not kidding when I say I take gift wrapping seriously! 🙂

Why not check out Oz Fair Trade’s full range of beautiful fair trade products online? I have sorted presents by recipients and interests so hopefully your Christmas shopping this year will be super easy! You can also find Oz Fair Trade products in some retail stores

p.s. we have just applied to the Fair Trader of Australia for their endorsement so please stay tuned. 🙂

How to rebrand an e-commerce store (Part V)

People matter

No matter how the technology changes or where the business operates, online or offline, the ultimate relationship between a seller and a buyer has not changed. The most important thing to be mindful of during a rebranding campaign, in my opinion, is to keep customers happy.

At Oz Fair Trade, one of things that set us apart from our competitors is our full commitment to providing the best customer services. We are passionate about fair trade, and we know that ultimately it is the consumers who have the power to push forward fair trade practices. For this reason, we want our customers to have the best shopping experience so that they will continue to support fair trade. We not only offer free express shipping on orders above $50, which is one of the most generous in the market, but also offer 365 day free return and exchange. This is unmatched by any other fair trade businesses in Australia. As a result, we have many happy customers, and any customer who has an issue will see it resolved quickly, because he/she only needs to deal with one person who really cares instead of some random employee who doesn’t care. All these earned us WOMO’s 2013 Service Award, which is shared only by the top 5% of the businesses listed on WOMO.

We were very mindful of customers’ reactions and needs when we decided to rebrand from ‘Global Handmade’ to ‘Oz Fair Trade’. One of the first things we did was posting on all social media platforms about the upcoming changes. Immediately after the new website was up and running, we emailed all our past customers about the change and the new features of the website, and invited them to visit the new site and give us feedback. We also offered them a permanent 10% discount on all future orders for supporting Global Handmade, a start-up fair trade not-for-profit. Some customers immediately responded and we were very happy about the positive responses that we received.

Through the process, we learned that people is the most crucial part of rebranding. All these website changes, social media update etc. all serve a single purpose: keep past customers happy and attract new customers. It is easy to forget the role of people when running an e-commerce from a home office, when the person responsible is faced with an endless to-do list covering web building, graphic design, photography, accounting, stock purchasing, stock labelling etc. But losing that focus would be a fatal mistake.

This is the last post of ‘How to rebrand an e-commerce store’ series. We’d love to hear your thoughts/experiences!

thankyou.co

thankyou water

“Live Everyday. Give Everyday.”

When I first heard of Thankyou Water sometime last year, it was a moment of “wow”. I thought, this was a social enterprise that has done everything right; this was a social enterprise that I could learn a lot from.

I was disappointed to find that Thankyou Water was not available in ACT. Then I sort of forgot about it, until I saw the familiar “thank you” on a cereal box in a supermarket. I haven’t felt this excited about trying a new product for a long time. The cereal looked a lot like Carman’s which I loved. So I gave it a go.

YUMmmm!

To give you a bit of background, Thankyou Water was born out of two discoveries by its founder, Daniel Flynn, when he was 19. One was the World Water Crisis in 2008, and the other was the fact that Australians spent a crazy $600 million annually on bottled water. A bold idea was born to join the extremes together. The result? A bottled water company that would exist for the sole purpose of funding safe water projects in developing nations.

Since then, the company has expanded into body care and food. What I love about this company is not only what they stand for, but also their total transparency. This is a company that’s leading the Australian social enterprise sector by example. I have long believed that the solution to poverty lies not with the public aid, but the private sector. I founded Oz Fair Trade out of this belief.

Love to hear your thoughts!