Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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“King of Fruit” Goes Fair Trade

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, April 27 / 15

Zack Gross

A search of web sites on the Internet reveals the “misconception” that bananas are the most popular fruit in the world. Purists would say it should be tomatoes, even though we put them in vegetable salads!  Canadians would argue that the honour should go to apples. 

After all, when you enter any grocery store, there are usually a dozen different kinds of apples on display and your neighbours are buying them by the large bag or two.  Ultimately, however, some sites argue that the world’s most popular fruit is the mango!

As this particular argument goes, most economists base their most-popular-fruit count on sales and/or import-export of fresh, dried and processed fruit, and don’t also include domestic consumption.  Thus, while mangoes may rank 24th on a scale of twenty-five in US fruit sales, given the combination of commercial sales and domestic consumption patterns in India, South Asia, China and Latin America, the mango truly lives up to its name of “King of Fruit” worldwide.

There are actually 2000 different varieties of mangoes, from tiny ones to four-pounders!  They are very good for you, being sources of vitamins C and E, niacin, potassium, iron and beta carotene.  They are sweet and juicy and can be messy!  If you don’t like them fresh off the tree or waiting for you in the supermarket bin, you can find them processed into a number of jams, pies, dried fruit and bars, ice cream and other food items.

For thousands of years, mangoes were found almost entirely in India and other part of South Asia and didn’t spread to other tropical areas until the 19th century.  Mango trees grow quickly and can spread their branches as much as 50 metres.  Some people traditionally assign spiritual powers to the mango tree and see it as a “status symbol” to be growing on their land.

In recent years, mangoes have entered the Fair Trade system to counteract low wages and unsafe working conditions.  Fair Trade mangoes currently are grown mostly in Peru and Mexico.  The system has led to better use of technology, increased production numbers and greater benefits to producer communities.

The Philippines is another source of mangoes.  While the country is beautiful, the soil is rich and the climate is ideal, most people live in utter poverty.  The fair trade mango system has had an impact in poverty alleviation and in therefore keeping many people from moving to urban slum areas.  Rural and urban poverty lead to child labour practices as well as child prostitution, but the revenue from a fair trade mango tree can cover the school fees of two children, and education leads to a dignified future.

Fair trade offers mango producers a minimum price that promotes long-term economic sustainability.  This minimum price is based on product and region.  Producers also receive a Fair Trade Premium that goes to community projects such as new equipment, worker training, schools and clinics.  Production co-ops or associations share their wealth equitably and all members have a voice in decision-making.  Working children over fifteen years of age must be allowed to attend school and are restricted from potentially risky work that adults might take on.

Fair Trade mangoes are grown without the application of harsh chemical sprays and harvesting of these fragile fruits is done by hand.  This natural production method is not only less expensive for producers, but also means better personal and environmental health.  Conventional fruit growing methods in the Global South lead to concerns around pollution of land and water sources as well as allergies, cancers and birth defects due to the unsafe use of chemicals or the properties of the chemicals themselves.

A key aspect of fair trade is to support small producers, who may only own a few acres or a few trees to get their product to market.  One-third of the Philippine mango harvest comes from these very small producers.

The Fair Trade system has also come to Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa where three-quarters of the people are extremely poor.  As European demand for fresh fruit has surfaced in West Africa, producers have worked to increase the quality and availability of their crop. 

Thousands of farmers have benefited from being able to sell into the international market where they get three to five times the price commonly found in the local one.  The story of one fair trade mango organization in Burkina Faso is that their success has led to being able to purchase a community tractor, ambulance, and irrigation equipment to supply water for crops during the dry season.

Fair Trade mangoes are still not easily found outside large Canadian cities, but keep an eye out for them, as the system becomes more main stream.

Zack Gross is a former Executive Director of the Marquis Project in Brandon.

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