Lancs farmers under pressure from diminishing incomes would probably be surprised to find their plight likened to that of those who suffered during the 18th century slave trade and even more amazed to be told they had a lot in common with some of the most impoverished regions of the Third world, reports Jeremy Hunt.
A small market town in Lancs has suddenly achieved international status thanks to the efforts of a local vet and his determination to see a fair price paid to Third World farmers for the commodities they produce - and it's something that may even spark a new movement for family farms in the UK.
Garstang - the rural hub of the Fylde region of Lancs - has become the world's first Fairtrade town.
Signs on the approaches to Garstang hail its unique claim to fame. This is truly a milestone for this quiet market town where shopkeepers have made a remarkable pledge to give their full support to goods bearing the Fairtrade label. It has set a precedent that is now being followed by several other market towns in the UK.
But while recent media attention has focused on the Fairtrade concept - a way of ensuring that Third World growers of commodities like tea, coffee and cocoa earn a fair return for their crops - the people of Garstang believe the ethos of Fairtrade should also be embraced for the benefit of those who farm in the UK.
Local vet Bruce Crowther, a lifetime worker for Oxfam and the driving force behind the creation of Garstang as the world's first Fairtrade town, has spent 10 years trying to raise awareness of the exploitation of farmers and their families in Third World countries.
Garstang Town Council's official support for Fairtrade has put Fairtrade tea, coffee, cocoa and chocolate bars on the shelves of shops throughout the town. And even "nonfood" businesses have agreed to use Fairtrade tea and coffee at staff break times. Even if you call at a local café or restaurant in Garstang you will have the choice of Fairtrade tea and coffee making sure your cuppa is helping to support growers in underdeveloped villages thousands of miles away.
"The whole idea of creating a Fairtrade town has taken a lot of hard work. We wanted to raise public awareness. As an example it seemed ridiculous that churches were holding coffee mornings to raise money for Third World communities but they were using coffee sold by large companies who do not support the Fairtrade system and who continue to exploit growers by refusing to recognise the need for a fair return for their commodities," said Mr Crowther.
In the days when the nearby county town of Lancaster was a busy port it handled large numbers of slaves from Africa but Mr Crowther says parallels can still be drawn between those dark times and the ignorance that continues to be shown over the needs of Third World farmers - and even small family farms in the UK.
"The slave trade was an abuse of human rights and yet we are still supporting a modern day equivalent of the slave trade by allowing people in underdeveloped countries to be forced into a life of poverty by the buying power of multi-national companies.
"And I'm sure many British farmers can sympathise with that; they too are being increasingly controlled by the large retail companies who put profit first."
He believes the success of Fairtrade is pivotal to overcoming much of the world's poverty - and he is not restricting poverty to Third World countries.
"A lot of people in the developed world feel disconnected from poverty and unable to do anything for those who are suffering. But Fairtrade is a tangible and easy way of supporting those in need.
"In a rural area like Garstang many consumers can relate to the plight of local farmers through the concept of Fairtrade. This is an important connection that we hope we can build on and in some way encourage more retailers to stock British food that is locally produced."
Mr Crowther admits that many local people, while prepared to support Fairtrade for Third World countries, remain concerned at the lack of help being given to small family farms closer to home.
"We've had local farmers marching through the town with banners demanding a fair price for the food they produce. They are right to protest and when you analyse it there's not a lot of difference between what they need to support themselves and their families and what a coffee grower in Ghana needs. They both want a fair return."
He believes there is a lot that small family farms in Britain can learn from those in developing countries who are working within the Fairtrade framework.
"All around the world there are small farmers who are victims of an unjust trading system and market forces way beyond their control and who have overcome their plight through the Fairtrade system."
All food retailers in Garstang now stock Fairtrade products. Each bears the Fairtrade logo which guarantees that those supplying the raw commodities involved in making it - tea, coffee or cocoa - have received a fair price. The Fairtrade Foundation provides the resources for schemes such as grower co-ops in Third World countries and links growers directly with companies prepared to produce Fairtrade brands.
Mr Crowther recently spent three days living in a wooden shack in the market square at Garstang to raise money for Oxfam. He was visited by Nuruddin Boateng who works in research and development for a cocoa co-op in Ghana and whose salary is paid by Comic Relief.