Student - November 13, 2008

VHL PUTS FAIR TRADE CENTRE STAGE

During the open day this Saturday, students at Van Hall Larenstein will be running a Choco Fair in the Forum, where they will present a market analysis and consumer research into the fair trade cocoa chain. And there’ll be ‘speed dating’ to link up secondary school students interested in the Major in Fair Trade Management with first year students.

This new Major was launched at VHL this academic year as part of the Tropical Agriculture course. It attracted eighteen students – half from the Netherlands and half from Africa, Asia and Latin America – all eager to learn how you organize fair trade in food. Three students have already dropped out. “They wanted the more hands-on training of an MBO course’, explained Course Coordinator Jos van Hal. He is nonetheless delighted with the ‘good start to recruitment’.

Next year he hopes to welcome thirty to forty students, since fair trade is popular among young people. Last week, Max Havelaar celebrated its twentieth year with a national action week to increase awareness of fair trade products in Dutch shops. Supermarkets participated too, and the latest annual EKO figures show a slight increase in their ‘fair’ assortment last year.

Van Hal thinks that the Netherlands lags behind neighbouring countries such as Great Britain, Germany and France. ‘In the Netherlands, fair trade is often associated with the Wereldwinkels, whereas in the U.K. supermarkets like Tesco are very active in promoting fair products, often in combination with other campaigns such as collecting plastic packaging or promoting energy-saving light bulbs. Consumers there are a bit ahead of us in their political-economic thinking.’

It is the turnover in fair trade products that needs a lot of attention, as the students discovered at the start of their course when they visited cocoa producer Cargill. There they heard that eighty per cent of the cocoa produced according to fair trade rules is not sold as a fair trade product. As a result, these cocoa farmers do not receive a ‘fair price’ for four fifths of their harvest. In order to improve on this, Van Hal believes that producers need to collaborate more closely with the food industry, or to organize their market chain themselves.

Chain management is just one of four main themes in this four-year Bachelor’s degree. ‘I don’t expect my students to go off straightaway and set up a fair trade chain, but producers, traders, supermarkets and consumer lobbies do need facilitators to support this process.’ Students also learn how to set up farmers’ associations, and about fair trade certification. In the fourth branch of the course they study consumer information and PR. There are plenty of jobs in all these areas, Van Hal assures us.

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