Why Ethiopia When There’s So Much Local Need?

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Run Across Palestine: Running Into Apartheid
Photo by Chris Treter – Higher Grounds Trading Company

As the founder of a company that has a reputation for it’s commitment to local and sustainable food, it’s no surprise that I’m often asked, “Why are you working on a project in Ethiopia when we have so much need here in our local community?”

It’s a fair question. There’s no doubt we have needs close to home. The key word here is “community” and how one defines it. For me, I define my community as anyone that is touched by actions I take every day. That can be my neighbor next door or a sugar cane farmer in Paraguay.

While we have a “local first” purchasing policy at Food For Thought, there will always be commodities such as coffee, sugar, chocolate or bananas that will always be a part of our food system. So long as they cannot be produced domestically for lack of appropriate climate or capacity, we’ll need to trade with people far afield to meet these demands.

In this case, community is not a circle on map that I can draw around my home or place of work, but more accurately represents pins on a map. They mark all the places I touch or touch me in my day-to-day activities. There are many clustered around my local community, but a sprinkling of them around the globe.

Whether buying a banana or choosing a vacation spot, how we spend our money has an impact on people we don’t know or see. There are costs to every decision that go beyond price and are often invisible to us. At worst, those costs can perpetuate war, slavery, poverty or environmental destruction. At best, those decisions can build community, reverse poverty and promote peace. Determining exactly where our decisions fall in that range can be a challenge.

In comes the role of Fair Trade, and by extension our project: Run Across Ethiopia.

Photo by Timothy Fitzgerald Young - Food For Thought, Inc.

Unlike “Free” Trade, where competitive advantage and limited disclosure rules the exchange, Fair Trade promotes transparency and levels the playing field. It provides mechanisms that help assure that trade is based on mutual benefit.

Our company is committed to using Fair Trade ingredients whenever we have to seek sources overseas. Doing so allows us to meet and know the people and places that supply our ingredients. This contrasts significantly from the traditional commodities markets where the social, cultural and environmental impacts are not reflected in market prices.

However, despite all the benefits of Fair Trade, it alone will not solve poverty. Therefore, Run Across Ethiopia offers our local community an opportunity to give beyond Fair Trade. It not only raises money and addresses needs as defined by the recipient community, but also raises awareness about the plight of people around the planet that work to provide us with many of the luxuries we take for granted, even in hard economic times.

It’s our effort to make the invisible the visible and take some responsibility for supporting the people that feed us. So while we’ll continue to do the large portion of our giving locally, we will also look for those pins further afield on our map. They represent real people with real needs. They are my neighbors; my community.

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