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N. Sivasothi,
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Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore. Since 1998 with origins from OneList.

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Sat 07 Oct 2006

Fuel for Thought

Category : trade

At the NUS Green Carnival on Tue 03 Oct 2006, I spotted a bunch of students who were promoting fair trade products. So I drew up a chair and had a chat with them - these students were from the University Scholars Programme, and had met on a Youth Expedition Project to India, possibly Operation Lumous II.

In response to that expedition, they had, amongst other things, set up a booth at the Green Carnival to promote fair trade awareness. Fair trade, WIkipedia-ly put, attempts to "give disadvantaged producers in developing countries a fair chance on the world's market" and "support their self-determined sustainable development."

My exposure to fair trade articles come mainly from links highlighted by Jasmin Chua a.k.a. The Worsted Witch. One of our biology graduates, she took up journalism and writes and lives in New York City. In fact a few nights ago, with Halloween approaching, she penned a note about chocolate:

"..almost half of the chocolate consumed in this country [USA], including those by Nestle, Hershey's, and M&M/Mars, is made from cocoa beans imported from Africa's Ivory Coast, and largely harvested by child slaves as young as 9."

She links to these articles - "Bittersweet chocolate." By Caroline Tiger. Salon.com, 14 Feb 2003, and "AFRICA: The Dark Side of Chocolate." By Kate McMahon. Alternet, Wiretap, 28 Oct 2005. The latter suggests that:

"A solution to the problem of child labor and slavery in cocoa production is on the rise; fair trade chocolate ensures that farmers receive a fair price for their product and that their labor force is not comprised of children or slaves."

That's my mac. Left it there for safe keeping and for them to surf the Worsted Witch while I helped shift the Toddycats booth for the umpteemth time.

The NUS students' booth had several fair trade products on sale from villageexchange, which can also order online. The banner "Fight Poverty, Shop Fair Trade" was prominently featured and amongst the products was coffee.

Since many of us in Science are Spinelli guzzlers, and with Jasmin's The Worsted Witch posts buzzing in my ears, I suggested to them, as fair trade specialists, they could help improve the situation in our own "backyard," i.e. with Spinelli outlets at NUS for starters. In the process they'll gain some advocacy experience and raise fair tradde awareness.

The students looked ideal to raise such an idea inoffensively. Then I suggested some suggestions that attempted to balance the interests of Spinelli's, their consumers and fair trade awareness. They said we'll meet again in future and figure it out.

Meanwhile surfing revealed another made in Singapore fair trade group - Fairtrade.sg. Two links in particular are - buying fair trade products in Singapore and Fair Trade Action, a student movement that grew out of an RGS that any school group can tap as a resource.

Turning the consumer could be tough - and it'd be pretty important that fair trade coffee tasted good as well. Else they'd not have a hope of convincing the hard-core Spinelli coffee drinker. So we started at the bottom of the coffee drinking totem pole, with the occasional, Nescafe-drinking Toddycat, Anand, who took home a pack of fair trade coffee and reported tonight:

I can't believe I'm doing this, but since you persuaded me, here goes: I had a couple of cups of it over the last 2 days & my verdict is it's ....... well....... normal :p

What I mean is it tastes as good as the usual Nescafe Gold which I drink occasionally at home. Not too strong, but not bland either, just about the right flavour for me. Hmm, maybe that isn't so surprising since it was grown in Tanzania - Nescafe's mostly form there too, isn't it?

Looks different though - it's a finely ground, richer brownish-coloured powder as compared to the Gold's darker-brown little flakes. And it's also not bitter at all, as some specialized blends & sometimes kopitiam concoctions can be.

Can't really say much more than that cos I'm not a kopi expert by any means as I told you, more of a tea drinker (which is why the caffeine still works a bit for me I guess ;)

So that's it, my 1st coffee review .... heh :)

Anand Sundaram Balan, 07 Oct 2006

I can't believe I got a tea drinker to review the coffee. That is seriously flawed. Oh well, next to try it on a lab full of coffee addicts!

Posted at 3:52PM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | email | Raffles Museum news