It's a fair crop

16th March 2001 at 00:00
The commercial relationship between multinational food companies and their suppliers often resembles daylight robbery. But the fair trade movement guarantees producers a proper price for their goods. Yolanda Brooks finds out how Comic Relief is helping schools to make the cocoa connection

In the film Chocolat, Juliette Binoche uses sweet temptation to entice 1950s French villagers out of their cold and repressed ways. In 2001, the Day Chocolate Company is using chocolate to change the lives of villagers in Effudrassi, Ghana. While Ms Binoche brings joy and sensuality to the fictional French village, Day Chocolate hopes to offer something more tangible - infrastructure and self-reliance to tackle the real poverty that affects Ghana's cocoa farmers.

The chocolate bar is called Dubble, and is produced in Germany using cocoa from Ghanaian farmers (see panel), who own one third of the Day Chocolate Company. To make the plan commercially viable, the fair trade company, which is supported by Comic Relief, needs to win the custom of Britain's children and other fans of "smooth and creamy milk chocolate that is choc full of crispy crunch". And it's not simply a case of appealing to children's taste buds - the company wants to win the fair trade argument as well.

Next to Children in Need, Comic Relief is probably the most high-profile fundraising event in the UK; in 1999, Lenny Henry and his merry band helped to raise pound;35 million for charitable causes here and overseas. Comic Relief 2001 officially starts today, and it's unlikely that you'll get through the day or the weekend without being asked to say "pants to poverty" and hand over some cash. Indeed, many schools will be involved in fundraising today - last time nearly six out of 10 schools took part - with wacky money-making stunts replacing more sober learning activities.

At one Cambridge school, fair trade has been the centre of attention for months, and Comic Relief has gone far beyond a mere day of fundraising to become embedded in the curriculum. For the past few months, Parkside community college has been involved in projects promoting Dubble, developing school links with Ghana and creating projects for primary and secondary students.

By making a long-term commitment to Comic Relief, the school has ensured that globalisation and poverty is more than just another passing cause. But involvement with charity works both ways, says Dr Andrew Burn, the school's director of media arts. "We are constantly hunting for real-life projects," he says, "and this one allows children to meet pupils from other cultures and engage in complex cultural issues."

Parkside's involvement in fair trade issues began in January when, as part of their project work, 50 Year 11 GCSE media studies pupils set about producing a 30-second television ad. In the past that has meant promoting a fictional soft drink; this year's brand was Dubble, a real product on sale in supermarkets, grocery stores such as Londis and Spar, and Blockbuster video shops.

Instead of letting their imaginations run riot, they have had to stick closely to a brief supplied by Day Chocolate. "You don't want to advertise it as just charity, because it is not just about giving money. And you can't just make it look like un because you have to get the fair trade message in there," explains student Steve Clarke, 16, who has worked as part of a five-strong team to produce a well-thought out promo that describes Dubble as "chunky, funky, fair trade chocolate".

Year 8 children have been producing material for the Dubble website; Gemma Chandler, 12, contributed details about her life for her peers in Effudrassi to read. But the project has provided more than just an exercise in writing a pen-pal biog; it has increased her understanding of Ghanaian children's lives. "It was fun to find out how teenagers lived in a different part of the world," she says. "Usually when I get up I have my breakfast and get ready for school. In Ghana they get up at 3am and pray, then they sweep the house, then they have to collect the water, which I found surprising."

Students at Parkside are not the only ones to have benefited from the Comic Relief link. Year 6 children from two local primaries - Fen Ditton and Park Street school - have been visiting the college to create animations for the website. The animations, based on a Ghanaian folk tale, have been created with the help of staff from the Cambridge Arts Picture House and Louise Spraggon, a professional animator who works with the British Film Institute.

Parkside's head of English, James Durran, has been working with the primary pupils, and says developing skills, rather than raising awareness, was the aim for the younger age group. "This is very creative, but it also involves a lot of IT knowledge and skill," he says. "It also involves some literary and media studies work. It brings lots of disciplines and curricular areas together."

Andrew Burn says these activities, together with events such as drama, dance and music days, have enabled students and teachers to meet poets, musicians, artists, technicians and other students and given them a global perspective that couldn't have been established in just one day. "When we started off it felt very remote to them," he says. "It is difficult to break out of a simulation, but the breakthrough came when Nuruddin Boateng (project co-ordinator for the website in Ghana) came to visit us. These are real people and real products, and that made a big difference."

Most would applaud the aims of Dubble - the chocolate bar that's "dubbly good" - and Comic Relief, but there is still the slightly thorny question of encouraging children to buy high-calorie snacks to raise money for good causes while obesity rates soar. Andrew Burn believes that while you might want to change the world, you are unlikely to change the habits of a lifetime. "Kids will always be eating chocolate, and I don't think we are encouraging them to eat more. We are just encouraging them to make an ethical decision."

Parkside community college is negotiating with the English and Media Centre, in London, to produce a resource pack based on its media studies activities. Free key stage 2 and 3 teaching packs on fair trade and chocolate are available from Comic Relief. Each has full-colour pull-out pictures, stories, pupil sheets and teacher's notes. Contact: Comic Relief's PaPaPaa, Education Direct, PO Box 105, Rochester, ME2 4BE.Log on to or www.comicrelief.comeducation

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