In 2010, the UK's three main parties all pledged to meet the UN's target of spending 0.7% of the country's Gross National Income on international development. This year, and under the Coalition government, the UK will be the first country in the G20 to meet this target.
This news should be met with celebration and pride. But it has also led to debate, with some questioning the relevance of development assistance in 2013. These noisy debates about funding can obscure the essential truth: for those living in extreme poverty, even the smallest amount can, and does, make a big difference.
International development matters. It matters to the people who live in absolute poverty, it matters to the children who go to bed hungry each night, it matters to the women who die in childbirth because they do not have access to basic healthcare and it matters to me.
These people can seem abstract to us; they are distant and otherworldly as we go about our daily lives.
A few years ago I was lucky enough to visit Ghana, where I met a cocoa farmer. Thanks to Fairtrade, he has been given the gift of sustainability. Fairtrade has helped him build his own home, one room at a time. It's helped him fund his children's education and mould his own future. Fairtrade stops injustice, ensuring that the poorest producers are not discriminated against. Fair terms of trade give farmers and workers the control they need to be able to improve their futures.
In Malawi, the success of the economy relies on farmers and the production of agricultural products like tea and sugarcane. Malawians love to farm, but they face considerable challenges. A lack of resources, access to markets and technical know-how puts smallholder farmers' standards of living at risk. Being unable to improve their futures, means they may lose funding for their children's' education, as well as access to basic health care and social services. Living costs in the country are constantly on the rise.
But the Fairtrade Foundation is committed to increasing its impact in Malawi through a project called 'Branching out', and through collaboration with Fairtrade Africa and the Malawi Fairtrade Network. A report by the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) at the University of Greenwich has already proven that significant and tangible improvements are being made thanks to Fairtrade; it's now time to ensure these improvements are able to flourish.
Farmers in Malawi report that more improvements need to be made, but that the impact of Fairtrade to date has led to improved working conditions. Some sugarcane farmers who have joined Fairtrade in Malawi are now being paid a premium of $60 USD for their goods, which they can use in the community to help develop their surrounding areas or even just to buy clothes for their children.
Fairtrade's profile is on the rise, with comedians like Harry Hill and supermarkets like Sainsbury's selling products from Malawian sources at Fairtrade prices. I'm proud to say that since 2005, Sutton has been a Fairtrade borough. This means that at least two Fairtrade products, sourced from countries like Malawi and Ghana, are available in thirty-six retailers and eighteen catering outlets. I have a real desire to see Carshalton and Wallington, towns in my constituency become Fairtrade towns, so we can all help to raise the impact of Fairtrade.
My hope is that the UK's success in meeting the 0.7% aid spending target combined with the success of Fairtrade will encourage other countries to follow our example. Together we can ensure future generations won't ask us what we were doing- whilst other countries were suffering in extreme poverty.