Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Fair-Trader's Dilemma and the Republic of South Sudan

In January, Southern Sudanese cast their votes for independence; the day has come!
We join the rest of the world in welcoming the Republic of South Sudan, whose flag will be raised as the 193rd nation on July 9 (locally, at 11 a.m. over Boston City Hall). We've followed the fortunes of this newborn country, especially through the Lost Boys of Sudan (all men now, and many married and with children), some of whom we had hired for jobs around the store.

As this new nation grows, it highlights one of the dilemmas of bringing fair-trade goods to market. We had a choice of carrying pure shea butter from two fair-trade sources -- one from Ghana, and one from South Sudan. The shea butter from South Sudan was triple the price of the shea butter from Ghana. The major reason for the cost difference was the cost of transportation. Ghana is on the west coast of Africa with access to the Atlantic Ocean. South Sudan is landlocked; most of its roads are packed dirt, many unusable at some point of the rainy season. The nearest airports with flights to America are in Kenya and Uganda. The nearest port is Mombasa, Kenya. There was no option of getting shipments through northern Sudan: Americans are allowed to do business with the South, but the government of Khartoum is still listed as a terrorist state.

There are many efforts to improve and promote commerce in South Sudan; transportation costs are being addressed. We still can get that very expensive shea butter for those who would like to support this new nation. We'll also be writing more about the other barriers of bringing fair-trade items to market, and how these barriers can be overcome.

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