Fair Trade Movement in Japan and Strengthening The Food Sovereignty of Smallholder Farmers in Developing Countries

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Sirinthip Narinsilp


Fair trade is an alternative trade provided by non-governmental organizations in developed countries that targets the challenge of trade liberalization and strengthens market access for smallholder farmers in developing countries. This article aims to answer the question whether the fair trade movement in Japan can strengthen food sovereignty by increasing the decision-making power regarding food and agricultural trade for smallholder farmers in developing countries. The methodology in this article was documentary research and interviews with fair trade companies and fair trade shops in Japan. The conceptual framework applied the food sovereignty concept as defined in the Declaration of Nyéléni, 2007 and its principle in Article 3: Localises Food Systems. The results showed that even though the fair trade movement in Japan increased market access for smallholder farmers in developing countries, it was not able to strengthen food sovereignty for them because Japanese fair trade does not bring food producers and consumers close together and does not put producers and consumers at the center of decision-making according to the food sovereignty principle in Article 3: Localises Food Systems. The fair trade supply chain in Japan is still comprised of many trade stakeholders, such as importing companies, manufacturers, and processing
companies and distributors, and therefore small producers in developing countries hardly have the opportunity to connect with Japanese consumers. In addition, Japanese fair trade is trade between traders in developing countries and Japanese traders rather than direct trade between producers in developing countries and Japanese traders. Thus Japanese fair trade does not differ from neoliberal trade or conventional trade, where traders seem to have more market power than producers. The fair trade movement in Japan has barely helped to improve the unequal power relations among producers, traders, and consumers in the current trade system.

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