AN OXFORDSHIRE teenager curious about the effects of Fairtrade on the people it is aiming to help went to see for herself.

Emma Pearce, 19, spent three months staying in the village of El Cacao in Northern Nicaragua.

She met commercial sugar plantation workers paid $7-a-day by a commercial non-Fairtrade operation, as well as members of a co-operative which produces Fairtrade sesame oil for the Body Shop.

While there, she also helped to install water transport systems, eco-friendly toilets and eco-ovens, and set up a youth group. Miss Pearce, who grew up in Thame, and went to Lord Williams’s School, said: “In this day and age we are increasingly made aware of the availability of Fairtrade products and told that they benefit those in developing countries.

“The changes are clear to see in the UK, but many are still unaware of what exactly the effects on the lives of those who cultivate these crops are, beyond a general fairer price and improved living conditions. In Nicaragua, I saw the changes being brought about by Fairtrade.”

Miss Pearce met members of the La Isla Foundation who are trying to resolve problems in their community and researching the causes of kidney failure in the region.

The teenager said: “In La Isla, Northwest Nicaragua, the community’s primary source of income is sugar production.

“On average the men working in the fields take home just $7 a day and many work for several weeks at a time without a day off. On top of this, use of pesticides, fertilisers and inadequate provision of protective clothing is linked to a massive prevalence of Chronic Kidney Disease.”

Miss Pearce also met members of the Juan Francisco Paz Silva Cooperative, which, in addition to producing the Body Shop’s 72 tonnes of sesame oil each year, also sells Fairtrade wine, honey and coffee, feeding the profits back into community development projects.

Miss Pearce, who plans to study Biology at Lancaster University next year, said: “The profits from this venture are fed back into community development projects. The co-operative has been providing water transport systems to a third of the district, and are promoting the use of organic growing practices through vegetable plots and eco-latrines.

“Numerous schools and community centres have also been built with their assistance.”

“Cases such as these exist across the globe and it is evident that local Fairtrade initiatives can have a huge impact upon the communities they support.”