Group sows the seeds for change

Last week Tunbridge Wells Fairtrade Town Group planted seeds in Calverley Grounds to ‘sow their solidarity’ with climate-hit Fairtrade farmers. Mandy Flashman-Wells spoke to the Times about the project…

The campaign for Fairtrade Town status began in Tunbridge Wells in 2003 as an initiative of the Churches Social Responsibility Group. A steering group was formed and began working firstly with the churches in the area, then the Council and the wider community such as schools, community groups such as guides and brownies, cafés, shops and businesses. Tunbridge Wells then became a Fairtrade Town in 2007 when the Town Council passed a resolution committing to Fairtrade. Since then, the Fairtrade Town Group has grown into a diverse group of people hoping to make a difference to the lives of others by choosing carefully what they buy.

Last week the annual Great Big Green Week took place across the country, where local communities participated in hundreds of events designed to protect the planet and to urge politicians and decision makers to do likewise.

To mark the week, the Fairtrade Foundation ran a ‘Sow Your Solidarity’ campaign, inviting members of the public to sow a packet of native British wildflower seeds in their neighbourhoods. The campaign was designed to give people of all ages a practical and easy way to tackle climate change locally and show solidarity with farmers in low-income countries who are already planting change in their own communities.

The Tunbridge Wells Fairtrade Group joined in on the campaign event, sowing wildflower seeds in Calverley Grounds, mirroring similar grassroots activities taking place nationwide. The local group also took the opportunity to urge their MP Greg Clark to ‘sow his solidarity’ by ensuring farmers have a say in how climate funding is spent. It comes as UK ministers plan their next steps after hosting the 2021 COP climate conference in Glasgow.

Mandy Flashman-Wells told the Times: “This summer in the UK, we’ve had a glimpse into how hotter weather can make life harder for ordinary people. Right now, farming communities across the world who have done the least to cause the climate crisis are living with its worst effects, such as droughts, storms, food shortages and plant disease.

“We took part in the Fairtrade Foundation’s Great Big Green Week campaign because we want to ‘sow our solidarity’ with Fairtrade farmers and workers in lower-income countries who are struggling to grow the food we love to eat in the UK, like coffee, bananas and cocoa, due to climate change. Planting our wildflower seeds in Calverley Grounds is a small action, but we hope it sends a big message to our government leaders.”

“We also sent a packet of seeds to our local MP Greg Clark, asking him to keep the pressure on and sow their own seeds of change in Parliament. We need our political leaders to use their power to help ensure that farming households overseas, who struggle to make ends meet, have the support and finance they need to thrive. Together we want to show decision makers that people from all walks of life are stepping up to plant seeds of change in the face of the climate crisis – and we need them to step up too.”

The Fairtrade Foundation is an official partner of the Great Big Green Week, which is run by the Climate Coalition. Fairtrade’s ‘Sow Your Solidarity’ campaign is part its ongoing efforts to challenge governments of the countries most responsible for the climate crisis to, at a minimum, deliver on an unfulfilled promise to fund a $100bn climate investment package for communities most affected by climate change.

Stefan Donnelly, Campaign and Communities Manager at the Fairtrade Foundation, said: “We’re delighted that people here in Tunbridge Wells have come together this Great Big Green Week to ‘sow their solidarity’ with farming communities overseas. Their seed-planting event in Tunbridge Wells was a reminder of the depth of grassroots support in this region for the 1.9 million Fairtrade farmers and workers who grow many of our favourite foods. Their communities across Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific are often already unable to earn enough for a decent life due to unfair trade and extreme global inequality. To make matters worse, right now they’re also struggling with rising living, food and farming costs.

“At the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last year, the UK Government – along with other wealthy and high-polluting nations – reiterated a decade-old promise to give financial support to communities at the forefront of the climate crisis. Those who bear the most responsibility for the crisis have a duty to support farming communities at the climate coalface to invest in building more sustainable futures for themselves and for the whole planet,” Mr Donnelly said.

“But many of these communities, including Fairtrade farmers and workers, are still waiting for any support to reach them and waiting to have a say in how that money is spent. From reforestation to protecting pollinators, Fairtrade farmers are already investing in the solutions needed to protect their communities and our food supply from climate breakdown.

“This Great Big Green Week, we call on our politicians to respect farmers’ expertise, needs and ambitions. They must have a leading role in deciding how any climate funds are spent. We are running out of time to get this right. Communities here in Tunbridge Wells are playing their part – now our political leaders need to do likewise,” Mr Donnelly explained.

The Council in Tunbridge Wells declared a Climate and Biodiversity Emergency in July 2019, setting a commitment to become carbon neutral by 2030. They organised several events for the Great Big Green Week including a ‘Women in Sustainability Panel Event’ and ‘Going Green With Sustainable Business’, for any business  interested in reducing their carbon impact.

The final event of the week was held at The Forum, organised by the local Friends of the Earth Group, and included local community groups such as the Repair Café, Soroptimists, 20s Plenty, Tunbridge Wells Bicycle Users Group, Friends of the Earth and the Fairtrade Town Group.

Speakers included Councillors who are members of Tunbridge Wells Borough Councils Climate Emergency Advisory Panel (CEAP) and there was a discussion on community and renewable energy. All of which is especially timely in light of the bid by Voltalia to build a solar farm to the North East of Tunbridge Wells.

For further information about the Fairtrade campaign, inluding how you can get involved, visit:

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