Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 563–576 | Cite as

Uneven and unequal people-centered development: the case of Fair Trade and Malawi sugar producers

  • David P. PhillipsEmail author


This paper advances critical Fair Trade literature by exploring reasons for and lessons from uneven and unequal lived experiences of Fairtrade certification. Fieldwork was conducted in 2007 and 2008 to explore views and develop interpretations from various actors directly and indirectly participating in a Fairtrade certified sugar organization in Malawi. By exploring an embedded social and political context in a production place, and challenging assumptions and expectations of a Fair Trade community empowerment approach, research reveals intended and unintended consequences since certification. Findings propose lessons to adopt more nuanced understandings of place and context in Fair Trade approaches to facilitate more balanced community empowerment outcomes.


Fair Trade Community Empowerment Sugar Malawi 



African Caribbean Pacific


Cane Supply Agreement


Division of proceeds


European Union


Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International


Fairtrade Social Premium


Fair Trade Organization


Good Agricultural Practice


Global Production Networks


Global value chain


Kasinthula Cane Growers Limited (in Malawi)



I am grateful to the countless number of people in Malawi who participated in and supported this research. This includes research participant members of Kasinthula Cane Growers Limited and the Chikwawa district who welcomed me into their community and offered significant time and effort to share their experiences, opinions, and concerns. It is from that information that all of this work has been built upon and would not have been possible otherwise. My gratitude extends to Jason Agar and associates of Kadale who kindly hosted me in Blantyre and provided priceless advice and support. Also thanks to the research assistants for their excellent work with me in the field and for their friendship. Funding for this research was provided by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC Studentship PTA-033-2006-00041). The selection of the case study, research proposal, and funding for research were secured through collaboration between Newcastle University and Traidcraft Plc.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Natural Resources InstituteUniversity of GreenwichChatham MaritimeUK

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