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Fair Trade and the Indigenous People

March 9, 2015 · 

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DSC00584The most recent discovery of a human fossil, a jawbone with four teeth in Ethiopia has amazed anthropologists because of its age. It strengthens the theory that the migration of the first humans out of Africa occurred about 1.5 million years ago.

Some of them moved through Asia and across land bridges into South East Asia and the Philippines.

Their descendants could well be the Filipino indigenous people, the real survivors of an ancient past and the true owners of the Philippine ancestral lands. Marginalized as they are now-a-days their valid claims to ancestral land rights has been largely ignored by the dominating elite families that claim ownership and control 70 percent of the wealth of the country.

The goal of the Preda Fair Trade is to help these indigenous people and the small mango and coconut growers. We call on all who respect human rights to support them in their lawful and rightful claims to their ancestral land. They need help to resist the incursions of mining companies and land grabbers into the last remaining lands that they have occupied and for hundreds for thousands of years. The rich corrupt politicians have cut down the once magnificent rain forests. Fighting for social justice for the poor, the oppressed people is an important part of Fair Trade.

Juan and Maria De Los Reyes is one of many families that are members of the Preda Mango Farmers association in the remote villages in the Zambales and Bataan mountains. They have four children aged 5 to 16 years old and have lived in poverty all their lives. They are subsistent farmers growing their own food and selling the surplus to the traders in the far off towns.

The market buyers cheated them out of the rightful price for their vegetables, banana, cassava, honey and wild mangos. They remained impoverished like thousands of their tribal neighbors and their children never went to school beyond the fifth grade. They carried sacks of the Pico mango to the traders in the far off town but received just a pittance for their produce. They were cheated and exploited. So they stopped harvesting the mangos and what they could not eat they left them to rot on the tree or the ground.

That was before the Preda Fair Trade project developed a new tasty Mango puree based on the Pico variety of mangos. The making of mango fruit juice, jam, and other products by the German importing partner DWP changed all that. The pico mango are soon to be certified as Organic and farmers are earning 200% more for their Pico mango. It is hard work to meet the many requirements of the organic certification organizations and it’s costly too for Preda Fair Trade and DWP based in Ravensburg. The inspection fees are very high and approval can still be withheld.

For example, every mango tree has to be have a plate number nailed on it and each one marked on a map. The Preda agriculturists and the farmers have so far hiked the mountains and tagged as many as eight thousand mango trees.

The farmers have attended dozens of seminars and training sessions to learn organic farming methods even though the fruit is growing wild in remote areas where chemicals like pesticides are never used. The farmers are too poor to be able to afford to buy them.

This and the other Preda assisted development projects in their village, like water pumps, solar lights and bonus payments are helping make an easier life for Juan and Maria taking them and many more out of dire poverty. The children now go to school to higher grades.

Honest trading and paying just prices for products is what overcomes rural poverty. Consumers of products ought to learn about Fair Trade, buy Fair Trade products and not participate in the exploitation and oppression of the poor.

Juan and Maria are proud members of the Aeta people, the ancient indigenous inhabitants of the Philippines. They have strong moral values and have their own indigenous herbal medicines and traditional remedies to treat diseases and wounds.

They are true survivors, their ancestors walked out of Africa hundreds of thousands. Like many indigenous tribal peoples, the newly arrived migrants from Malaysia and Indonesia gradually populated the Islands and the Aeta were soon retreating from the coastal areas into the deeper forests where they lived a nomadic life as hunters and gathers in the forests.

They still live in harmony with nature and their culture is based on the love and respect for the natural world. They see and relate a greater higher power in nature.

They were wise and had a well developed knowledge and practice of using herbal medicines and they survived the harsh life in the forest for thousands for years. Their community life was sustainable and enduring.

They are mostly a gentle and friendly non-violent people and their DNA will lead directly back to their African ancestors.

But then came the Spanish invasion and conquistadores and colonial period and the Aeta and other hill tribes retreated deeper into the rain forests and mountains. But the onslaught of Western diseases with the Spanish was a devastating blow and many died. They remained generally ignored and uneducated and lived outside the mainstream of modern society.

Their shelters were and are still today mostly rustic and simple bamboo and grass one-roomed homes. They became the poorest of rural poor. Now they are organizing and Fair Trade is changing their lives for the better. But much more has yet to be done to help them. Buying the Preda Fair Trade mangos products in world-shops and asking for them in supermarkets is a great way for consumers to help.

When the international volunteers and interns come to Preda they visit the indigenous people and some stay as welcome guests in their villages and experience the simple life of these people. They absorb the sounds, smells and peace and quiet of these remote villages. They see the stars, some for the first time in their lives. They are far from electricity, the Internet and cell phones and closer to the people for the first time and free from their gadget-obsessed lives.

They are part of something great, working for unselfish human development and for justice.

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