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The Fair Tracing Project
Sarah Rich, 6 Mar 07
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A group of computer scientists and economic geographers in the UK put their heads together over the last few months to address a challenge in food systems design. As they see it, the Fair Trade movement faces obstacles to widespread adoption due to an ongoing divide between Northern consumers and Southern producers, as well as a lack of direct, specific information for customers about particular products. Their Fair Tracing Project proposes to enhance the growth of equitable global trade systems by adding digital tracing technology to individual items so that they can be tracked, and their stories recorded, as they move from farm to table.

At each stage of the product’s journey, information may be added and/or edited and, if the information is stored digitally on the internet, may be of various multimedia types. The ability to access this rich information at the point-of-sale will empower the consumer to make an informed comparison between competing products before finalising his/her purchase.
The Fair Tracing project believes that attaching tracing technology to Fair Trade products sourced in developing countries will enhance the value of such goods to consumers in the developed world seeking to make ethical purchasing choices. In turn, this may strengthen the commitment of existing customers to Fair Trade products as well as increase the marketability and thus sales of Fair Trade products. The overall profile of the Fair Trade movement itself will be enhanced from being seen as “early adaptors? of media-rich digital tracing technology that empowers both consumers and producers, and this could be used as a basis for a campaign to raise awareness of the movement worldwide.

We've talked before about some existing strategies for empowering consumers with the immediate ability to know their food's backstory. It's a smart reversal of an existing application, using things like RFID not for corporations to survey consumer habits, but for consumers to monitor their providers' behavior.

Alex also recently proposed an idea that could be stabilized with an infrastructure like Fair Tracing. He suggested developing transnational CSAs that would embrace the model of transparent, fair support of small farmers but look beyond the local to the possibility of connecting, for example, organic banana farmers in Guatemala with a CSA program to deliver those tropical goods to customers in upstate New York. If we were able to apply the well-organized, multi-functional digital system of Fair Tracing to the concept of establishing equitable global trade relationships for sustainable agriculture, we might well be able to simultaneously uphold the value of small, high-quality production and the mutual benefit of long-distance grower/buyer networks.

(Fair Tracing was another Doors of Perception project, represented at the conference by team member Ian Brown.)


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the tracing idea has a scalability benefit, too. as localities and regions start to do carbon reduction planning, one thing they'll need to know is, how are they going to secure food and services they now import but won't be able to.

with widespread tagging it will be easier, in a system filled with many smaller growers, to determine how much will be available and when, and at what carbon cost.

it seems like we'll need a more open distro system for food. like the very high efficiency wal-mart gets, but with more sources, more buyers, and as much detail maybe as from the seller's local market to the buyer's.

(one thing worth saying again though is that our boats can improve immensely. it's stupid to keep turning our carbon sinks into chopsticks we swap across the ocean, but if we have to trade some food, the boats can be greened significantly. that'd be a nice gift from us to the world, when we decide to spend our military cash on something useful.)

Posted by: hibiscus on 6 Mar 07

*"food and other goods", not "services"

Posted by: hibiscus on 6 Mar 07



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