Whose Knowledge Counts? Developing Fair Trade Skills in South Africa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Fair trade scholars and professionals have recognized the importance of capacity building to producers, but few studies have examined the provision of services. This article asks whether support networks provide certified producers with the capacity needed to thrive in markets. Drawing from ethnographic action research conducted with South African rooibos tea farmers, I highlight the power dimensions involved in producer support and discuss strategies to improve outcomes. I begin by theorizing a political economy of knowledge and skills within the context of neoliberal globalization and post-apartheid development. Next, I provide an overview of fair trade, clarifying differing approaches to governance and practice. I then share case-study findings, including coverage of a farmer leadership training program that sought to build a more collaborative foundation for learning and engagement. I conclude by arguing that training represents a primary site for the reproduction of inequality as well as a pivotal point for achieving social transformation. Whereas top-down transfers of packaged skills subordinate producers and underestimate the expertise needed to navigate certified markets, solidarity-based approaches build collective capacity by redefining whose knowledge counts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 9 2016


  • capacity building
  • fair trade
  • neoliberalism
  • rooibos
  • skills development
  • South Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Public Administration


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