Mainstream or niche market

Within alternative trade there are two different systems of helping producers in the global south.

A: Selling through world shops, churches, NGO:s and other niche markets that buy directly from the producers. This means fewer products sold, because the customers are few, but a higher price, because they are willing to pay more. Less sales means that the market isn’t big enough for very many farmers, but on the other hand there’s less bureaucracy because there’s no need for a certification system. The customer knows that all the products in the shop are bought directly from producers in a fair way.

B: Selling through regular supermarkets by labeling the products so the customers know the producer got a fair price for the product. This means much more sales because the customers are so many, but a lower price because so few of them are willing to pay more. Bigger volumes mean that there’s room for more farmers in the system, but on the other hand the bureaucracy grows when the certification system has to assure the conditions of trade.

Trade according to fair principles has existed ever since the 1960’s when church- and development cooperation organizations started selling products from third world countries. Up to 1986 they worked according to model A. Then the organization Max Havelaar in the Netherlands came up with the idea of labelling. This meant that the products could be sold in regular supermarkets to customers that didn’t go to the worldshops. Labelling systems developed simultaneously in different countries, and in 1997 the Fair Trade Labelling Organizations International was created to coordinate the different initiatives.

The worldshops still exist, but it’s thanks to fairtrade labelling that the phenomenon has become mainstream and fairtrade has grown explosively. More and more products and more and more producers are part of the system. The worldshops have remained a niche market.

The conflict between niche market and mainstream also affected Asoguabo’s prehistory, when the farmers exported together with other cooperatives through a joint export company. The company collapsed in 1997 when one of the cooperatives chose to cooperate with the NGO OXFAM to sell their products. Asoguabo’s farmers  grown much stronger and bigger. It can be problematic to cooperate with supermarkets, but it’s thanks to them that Asoguabo is what it is today.

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