Fair Trade founder steps down

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It was turning 80 last month that prompted John Riches to consider slowing down and retire as chairperson of the Fair Trade organisation that he set up 10 years ago.

John handed over the baton for Just Trading Scotland (JTS) to Mary Popple earlier this month.

John’s wife Nena had worked as a doctor in rural South Africa where they’d witnessed terrible poverty and this was the catalyst for getting involved in fair trade.

Their first venture, the Balmore Coach House Fair Trade café and shop, was established in 1980 and it grew so much that they needed bigger storage premises.

They also saw an opportunity to distribute more goods so set up Just Trading Scotland (JTS) in 2009, operating from a Paisley warehouse.

JTS started with a shipment of rice just in time for Fairtrade Fortnight. Since then they have developed partnerships with small producer groups across the world and gathered support across Scotland and the UK.

The JTS mission has always been twofold, to work with their partners who are smallholder farmers and producers in the developing world and create a UK market for their goods, and to educate UK consumers to sustain and grow the UK market for their products.

The Balmore Coach House closed in January 2017 and a new Fair Trade shop and café, which is run by different people, was set up in Gavin’s Mill, Milngavie, and opened in March 2017.

John said: “It has been an exciting and challenging ten years for JTS, with lots of great achievements and some tight corners.

“It’s been really rewarding to see partnerships develop over the years with people across Scotland, the UK, and farmers in Africa, particularly in Malawi.

“I will continue to promote those partnerships by cultivating some of the friendships and links that I’ve made through JTS.

“I’d also like to build a better understanding of where the fair trade movement is going and write about it.”

John added: “I’m confident that JTS is in capable hands with Mary leading the way.”

He is also looking forward to spending more time with his friends and family, including his many grandchildren. John and Nena also plan to convert the Coach House in Balmore into their new home.

Mary (65) from St Andrews, Fife, first got involved with JTS in 2012 and has been a non-executive director since September 2013.

Mary said: “Firstly I’d like to thank John and Nena for all their hard work over the years, without their vision none of this would have happened.

“Fifty per cent of the world’s poorest people are smallholder farmers, so the world remains clearly, an unfair and unjust place, which cannot be right.

“John’s boots are huge ones to fill and there’s still a lot more work to do”.

JTS has sold over £2 million worth of Fair Trade products in the last ten years and they have imported 250 tonnes of Kilombero rice from Malawi.

Each sale of 90kg enables a rice farmer to send a child to secondary school for a year.

JTS runs a 90kg Rice Challenge all year and more than 800 schools, churches and community groups have already taken part.