The project will kick off next month when Robert Craig, a dairy farmer in the Eden Valley and the NFU's Cumbria County chairman, will travel to the Windward Islands to look at how the Fairtrade model has helped the islands' banana farmers. A banana farmer from the region will then travel to Cumbria to visit Craig's farm in an exchange that will be co-sponsored by the Fairtrade Foundation.
There were significant parallels between the situation faced by UK farmers and those in developing countries, said Joe Human, co-ordinator for the Cumbria Fairtrade Campaign. "These parallels are not in levels of wealth, but in the way powerful players in the supply chains abuse their power to the detriment of farmers."
Two high-profile examples were the production of milk in the UK and growing bananas in developing countries, Human added. "Both are subject to ruthless downward pressure in price wars between the major supermarkets." Other examples included coffee, subject to highly speculative futures markets, and fresh vegetables.
Although UK farmers could not become Fairtrade because it was a strategy for poverty alleviation and sustainable development in developing countries, elements of the model and movement may have application here, Human said.
A conference 'Fair dealing for a sustainable future: the case for Fairtrade and local' will take place in Penrith on 4 November at which Harriet Lamb, Fairtrade Foundation's executive director, will speak.
The conference will include seven workshops, one of which will explore whether there would be any value in developing a 'Cumbrian Fare' mark to act as a strong and trusted brand for food producers. Workshops will also be held on other themes such as how a dedicated supply sector for Cumbrian dairy farmers could be introduced, how Cumbrian farmers can add value to local wool and how the distribution of local produce can be improved for the benefit of local farmers, food processors and consumers.
Booths trading manager, Chris Dee, is due to attend next month's conference and representatives from Sainsbury's and The Co-operative which are part-funding the event will also be present.