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A Fair Trader’s Journey : Malawi

March 4, 2015 / FairTrader

A scene of devastation in Blantyre, Malawi.

A scene of devastation in Blantyre, Malawi

How many of us are aware that 276 people were killed and 230,000 made homeless by the floods that hit Malawi in January of this year? It came home to me when a family member called Cedric asked for help to rebuild his house in Blantyre where a wall was washed away leaving his wife and three children exposed to the wind and rain (and thieves), a dire situation that continues to this day.

Cedric works nights as a security guard and farms a smallholding in the day, whilst his wife cooks delicious healthy snacks that she sells to other mums at the school to raise a little extra cash to help them get by. He is a proud man and it was very hard for him to request help; just £90 for the bricks to rebuild his house. He is not to blame for the fact that all the forests that used to clad the hills around Blantyre have been felled, both for charcoal to cook with and for the hardwoods that can be exported using freely available export permits issued by corrupt officials, despite Malawi’s ban on timber exports. Indeed, it is not his fault that rising affluence in other parts of the world mean that people consume more energy and eat more meat, leading to inexorably increasing carbon emissions.

Cedric can hardly influence the world’s media to show any interest in this disaster. After all, we see it repeated in Mozambique, Kashmir, Bangladesh and many other countries, and such stories are so commonplace that they are no longer big news. As a result, politicians from rich countries continue to pursue short term policies rather than show leadership on climate change, and those from poor countries continue to steal from their compatriots whilst conning the aid donors.

Cedric cannot help any of this but is forced to ask myself (who is as much to blame for the problem as the next man in the street) for financial support! I own a house and a car and have some modest savings. Pure luck rather than personal merit has meant I was born in a rich country to relatively well off and good parents giving me food, shelter, healthcare and a good education. Forget charity-people like me having a responsibility to use these advantages to make the world a better place for people like Cedric and his children. If more of us exercise this responsibility, the human race may survive in the longer term, and we will all sleep more soundly in the short term. We will also discourage young African Muslims from listening to the odious overtures of the likes of Boko Haram.

The aid agencies are doing wonderful work to help deal with the misery, but in the long term the answer lies with all of us. Climate change and deforestation are the deadly duo responsible, while the affluent people of the world who are emitting green house gasses and hogging all the wealth are fueling both.

So what am I going to do about it?

Yes, I will send him the £90, but much more importantly, I will continue to buy anything I can that gives poor farmers like him a chance to work their way out of the vicious cycle of poverty. The Malawi Kilombero rice in Fair Trader is a good example. I will also support charities that address some of the long term causes of deforestation, like Root to Fruit; the Fair Trader charity of the year. Lastly, I will continue to work during my twilight years to exhort and encourage the millions of other co-operators worldwide, to join our 600 plus members on the long journey we have embarked on, to honour our debt to the invisible billions like Cedric.

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