Tuesday, January 15, 2008
What Is Horizontal Trade
Horizontal trade is a relationship between communities. There are many influences that help us to understand and describe horizontal trade, but basically it is a relationship based on friendship and mutual understanding. We work with the willing and with those who have initiative. We are not "helping" the poor Mexicans....rather through our work in civil society in Southern Mexico we found a way to move beyond being the recipients of the great gift of Mexican hospitality, to a type of reciprocal intercultural trade, that is mutually beneficial and more like a dialogue than a trade agreement. In activist terms horizontal trade is a form of direct trade or direct action. It is about working at the grassroots and looking to your left to find those who are seeking something similar and with whom you can form a link in the chains of social change based on solidarity, dignity, and ecology. Fair Trade is a step in the right direction, but to look at the history of that term, or the ways that large corporations have co-opted it and used it against community groups, small producers, or small business is to uncover its glaring contradictions. Horizontal trade is about being well rooted in your local place, and at the same time well connected to other groups that are rooted in their place. In this sense it is also described as trans-local trade, and is closely related to subsistence cultures and the act of cultivating the earth and regenerating the soils that we stand on. As Wendyl Berry wrote, "I stand for, what I stand on".
In this context of this emphasis on localization and addressing issues in our own backyards our ideas our recent work in urban agriculture, the regeneration of amaranth production in Ontario, or our emphasis on utilizing Ontario grown hem seed in our chocolate take on a new light.
Horizontal trade is a kind of relationship that is as old as culture, for as long as we can remember durable goods (spices, herbs, salt, silks, textiles, dyes, artifacts, maps, etc....) were traded across vast differences. It was only with the onset of the modern era that these products were converted into faceless commodities, and their true costs externalized onto the environment or vulnerable communities.
We strive to respect the ecology and the human scale of authentic relationships. We only deal in durable goods that have a story or symbolic value attached to them. We are importers of cacao and other goods, and yet we strive to keep food miles to a minimum by using bicycle trailers and pedal power for processing beans. Perhaps one day our dream of finding a sailing vessel that will work between the port in Toronto and the Veracruz will become a reality.
We know that global commerce generates all kinds of unsustainable absurdities. For us it does not make sense that cacao beans should be sold at exorbitant prices in Southern Ontario because they are scarce, nor should they be cheaper than food staples that are grown locally. They are not scarce, but yes they are a luxury that should be enjoyed ethically, in proportion, and with an eye to the chains of translation and trade that brought them to our fingertips. It does not make sense to us that the same producers growing the cacao beans cannot afford to buy one of the gourmet chocolate bars that they are processed into. Therefore, part of the internal logic of horizontal trade is accessibility, and non-alienation from the product. We believe in paying a fair price that is not dictated to us by wall street, but is the fruit of our relationships with growers and conscientious consumers.
As a social enterprise business we also promote simple chocolate making techniques and technologies so that this model can be shared with other producer communities who may have lots of initiative but only a little bit of capital. With only a hand grinder we have shown people how to make chocolate and to concoct recipes from locally available ingredients. Our learning philosophy is based on living as learning, and our workshops are best described as apprenticeship learning.