Updated: Oct 8, 2019
Is Conscious Trade the solution for local makers and farmers in the face of a globalised world?
by Rand Pearson
Globalisation as an idea sounded amazing—what’s not to like about free trade and open borders and global citizenship, right? It’s the story the West was spinning at the time, and the story that much of Africa, even to this day, is still buying.
“Twenty years ago globalization was pitched as a strategy that would raise all boats in poor and rich countries alike. In the U.S. and Europe consumers would have their pick of inexpensive items made by people thousands of miles away whose pay was much lower than theirs. In time, trade barriers would drop to support even increased multinationals expansion and economic gains while geo-political cooperation would flourish,” stated a recent Washington Post editorial.
It wasn’t meant to be. Not by a long-shot.
Instead, globalization opened the door to an extraordinary and mostly unregulated four-decade depletion of the natural resources at the hands of cheap labour. We have been taking without replenishing, and now, according to a report by the World Counts Organization, we need 1.8 Earths (nearly twice the global resources we have now) to sustain a population climbing to 10 billion by 2050.
Just when we need an expansion of output to feed the world, global warming comes knocking at our door. Undeniable scientific evidence points to the Earth’s warming atmosphere caused by unprecedented levels of carbon emissions over the last 50 years, and nearly half of those carbon emissions are related to agriculture production and global transportation of goods.
Tilapia caught in Lake Victoria is frozen and shipped across the world while Kenya turns to its major trading partner, China, and buys $25 million worth of fresh fish and other seafood. Americans in chilly Northwest Michigan pay $3 for the right to have a Haas avocado shipped from sunny Florida to their front door. The Spanish have such a thirst for Argentine lemons that local lemons from the Citrus Coast of Spain rot on the ground. Half of Europe’s peas are grown and packaged in Kenya, while we consume $350 million worth of its corn (our staple crop).
World trade is dizzy with contradictions. And with increasing carbon emissions and rising temperatures, global food production is declining, while demand is rising—all of it unsustainable.
Kenya imports three times as much as it exports, increasing its reliance on outside goods while decreasing its self-reliance on national production. In 2018 alone, 25 billion KSH was spent on importing maize, onions, tomatoes, garlic, beans, eggs, tea and citrus fruits—all products produced in abundance by local Kenya farmers.
It is this very mechanism of global trade that creates poverty and environmental degradation around the world, particularly in Kenya.
To do our part to help reverse this devastating trend, Antonia Kihara, co-founder of Ubuntu Trust Africa, recommends that we need to build more locally based ‘conscious’ trade relationships while relying less on outside imports.
“To address the negative impacts that globalization is having on the environment and many people in Africa, we created a ‘conscious trade’ platform, called Afridukas,” says Kihara.
“Conscious Trade means that the maker, the grower, the seller and buyer all benefit from locally sourced and consumed goods in a model that seeks to reduce carbon emissions by reducing our consumption of international goods and by making local trade more efficient.”
While Africans consume the world’s goods and export their money, intra-African trade remains stagnant.
World Bank statistics put intra-African trade at just 11 percent of the continent’s total trade between 2007 and 2011. In 2015, intra-African trade was worth just $170 million, according to the same institution’s figures, when the potential stands at trillions of dollars.
“Just imagine what we could do with that revenue,” says Kihara. “If we built more local trade platforms that create a win-win for everyone in the value chain; then we could do more to support each other, build our own economic growth, become more self sufficient and help stem environmental degradation.
“It’s really not complicated. The more local we are in our buying and consumption habits, the better off you and your neighbour are going to be,” says Kihara.