Hundreds of civil servants arriving for work at the Department of Trade and Industry in Victoria Street, London, yesterday morning, were handed a banana for breakfast bearing the message 'Don't forget the farmer who grew this banana.' The National Federation of Women's Institutes, the Fairtrade Foundation, CAFOD and Banana Link have joined forces to urge the EU and the UK Government to step in and help Fairtrade banana farmers in the Windward Islands whose livelihoods are threatened by new EU proposals. Around 40 members from these organisations handed out the fruit grown on small family-run farms in the Windwards. Campaigners were joined by street theatre characters 'The Bananas', who unpeeled their costumes to reveal the FAIRTRADE Mark to share the Fairtrade message with everyone they meet. This event formed part of the Global Week of Action on Trade (April 10 - 16) when the Trade Justice Movement in the UK and similar movements across the world are staging events which say no to indiscriminate liberalisation and yes to everyone's right to food, a livelihood, water, health and education. Action cards were sent to EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson from all over the UK asking him to reconsider the changes to the rules. The current quota and tariff system ensures preferential treatment for African, Caribbean and Pacific banana producers - thus enabling small-scale farmers to continue to participate in world trade. The EU has decided that this will be replaced by January 1 2006 with a single tariff for all. However, low-cost banana plantations in Latin American countries such as Ecuador owned by major multinationals will have a big advantage in selling their fruit. These planned changes would therefore result in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in family farms. One in five bananas from the Windward Islands now carry the FAIRTRADE Mark and increasing sales are helping Windward Islands banana farmers survive. The farmers have banded together, holding weekly meetings to make business decisions such as the move to reduce the use of chemicals in their farming, and to help each other. Thanks to the premium which comes with Fairtrade sales, school furniture has been purchased which means that children can attend class all day rather than for just part of the day, street lights have been installed, farm access roads renovated and a pre-school building has been built so small children no longer have to walk four miles a day to school. Harriet Lamb, Executive Director of the Fairtrade Foundation, said: "We are asking that the current regime of quotas and licences is maintained until a system can be introduced which supports socially and environmentally sustainable production and enables small banana farmers to export their fruit. Our concern is that the new EU rules could make it impossible for family farms on the Windward Islands to compete with cheaply produced bananas from large South American plantations. For these small holders, free trade means no trade. What they need is trade justice." There is a growing consensus even from Costa Rica, Ecuador and many Latin American and Caribbean producers for a postponement of these changes in favour of the continuation of the current quota system. Harriet added: "If the Caribbean banana industry loses its market as a consequence of the EU proposals, the outcome will be the destruction of whole communities and economies." The banana industry is the major employer and the backbone of the islands' economies with all exports going to European Union countries. The industry is struggling to survive as volumes fall and the number of banana farmers in Dominica, one of the Windward Islands, dropped from 11,000 in the 1980s to 700 in 2003. As Amos Wiltshire, banana farmer and National Fairtrade Coordinator for Dominica, explains how falling prices have hit the islands: "Farmers lost interest and trust in the industry. The economy went down to zero because bananas are the heartbeat of them country. Everything was going haywire: increasing crime, youth violence, youth delinquency. We even had families torn apart because there was no income, nothing coming in, husbands not able to maintain their families." Thanks to Fairtrade, confidence has been returning and last year 300 farmers in Dominica were able to return to the industry. These positive developments are now under threat. Barbara Gill, NFWI Chairman, said: "The proposed single tariff could have a devastating effect on thousands of farmers who grow Fairtrade bananas in the Windward Islands. As one of the founding member organisations of the Fairtrade Foundation, the NFWI has always supported Fairtrade and sustainable farming practices. Our members are concerned not just about the economic effects of the proposed single tariff but also the impact this could have on family life and social cohesion of these farming areas. We urge the continuation of the current quota system."
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