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Byline: PETER GAYNOR Fairtrade Mark Ireland

IRISH consumers can make a real difference to the lives of people in the developing world through simple choices at the cash register.

The Fairtrade Mark on goods which you buy ensures a guaranteed minimum price and it covers the cost of producing the goods.

In the case of coffee, this minimum price not only benefits consumers, but also people in Third World countries.

And it does make a difference.

Farmer Justino Peck lives with his wife Christina and three children in a small, simple cabin in San Jose, in the Central American country of Belize.

Electricity has not reached their remote village and the family uses kerosene lamps and hand pumps for water while they cook over an open fire on the floor.

Until the early 1990s they had enough from the sale of cocoa beans to buy clothes, basic necessities and a variety of foods.

Then, even this simple and basic way of life came under threat as the world price of cocoa fell and they faced becoming victims of a faceless global market.

In the late 80s, the Mayan Indian family had been encouraged to grow more of the crop and promised a fair price. Justino and his neighbours planted new saplings.

It takes 4-5 years for the trees to mature. The pods are then picked, the seeds extracted and the beans transported to a shipping point.

This involves Justino carrying 100-pound sack of cocoa beans on his back across two miles of rough, and, frequently, wet terrain to the road and then taking a two-hour trip by bus.

But Justino and many other farmers were left devastated - after investing the time, effort and energy - when the price of cocoa sunk to less than half its former value.

It was not even worth harvesting. The crops were stifled by weeds and the farmers faced huge hardship. The problem was the uncertainty of the world market.

Then, out of the blue, Justino and the other members of his local co- operative were approached by Green & Black's, a UK chocolate company, who offered to buy their cocoa.

The company was looking for Fairtrade endorsement for their new product `Maya Gold' chocolate and struck a favourable deal with the co-op.

Launched in March 1994, the chocolate was awarded the new consumer label, the Fairtrade Mark.

Not only did Justino and the other Maya farmers get a much better price than previously offered, they also entered into a long term trading commitment.

Christina, Justino's wife, said: "From the money we get from cocoa, we have made a concrete floor in our house to replace the dirt floor and our children are now able to go to secondary school.

"We planted more cocoa because of our confidence in Fairtrade. Only Fairtrade cocoa gives us a good price."

This situation has been replicated in many areas of the developing world, where luxuries that we take for granted - tea, chocolate and coffee - are grown. …