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Title: Fair trade and community empowerment :the case of sugar producers in Malawi
Authors: Phillips, David
Issue Date: 2011
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: Whilst there have been many accounts of success stories of fair trade in a variety of low income producer communities, there have been few critical accounts that examine the varied lived experiences of people in such communities. This thesis advances a developing critical literature by exploring reasons for unequal and uneven experiences of members of a Fairtrade certified producer organisation. As fair trade has expanded into new commodities and countries, both sugar and Malawi have to date been underresearched. This thesis addresses these gaps by focussing on Kasinthula Cane Growers Limited (KCGL) in southern Malawi. Developing a critical reflection that incorporates postcolonial and post-Marxist critiques, the thesis problematises definitions and assumptions regarding empowerment as a people-centred development approach and community as a cooperative social and political formation. This reflection is used to expand existing analytical frameworks to create a Postcolonial Agricultural Production Network as a framework to focus on a complex geography embedded in a local postcolonial production place. Doing so opens space to explore uneven geographies of production and empowerment shaped by embedded social and political factors. By un-masking inequalities, hierarchies, and dependencies in the institutional environment of a producer community, and incorporating perspectives from a range of producers, both intended and unintended outcomes from Fairtrade certification are examined. The thesis reveals that despite fair trade intentions to promote democracy, transparency, and participation, unintended consequences of exacerbating inequalities and discrepancies between low income producers, and over expectations of an impoverished society, have led to variable experiences of fair trade. Identifying sites of local inequality and unable and unwilling agents of empowerment highlights the important role of place in analysis. This demonstrates how embedded social and political formations in a particular place shape different experiences of fair trade. The findings propose a lesson to incorporate a more nuanced understanding of place in fair trade approaches that challenge assumptions of harmonious producer communities to sharpen focus on embedded inequalities and uneven producer community landscapes.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

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