How the ‘rice lady’ from St Andrews became chairman of the board

Mary Popple, John Riches
Mary Popple, John Riches

A St Andrews woman is taking over at the helm of a well-established and successful Scottish fair trade company.

Mary Popple (65) has put aside of a quiet retirement as she prepares to take Just Trading Scotland (JTS) into the future as chair of its board.

Mary, who chairs St Andrew’s Fair Trade group, successfully campaigned to get the Royal and Ancient golf course to run the Open as a fair trade event when it is in town.

She also worked hard to achieve fair trade status for St Andrews. Mary is so well recognised for her work that she became known as the ‘rice lady.’

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JTS was set up by husband and wife, John and Nena Riches, ten years ago and is run from a warehouse in Paisley.

The company started with a shipment of rice just in time for Fairtrade Fortnight. Since then it has developed partnerships with small producer groups across the world and gathered support across Scotland and the UK.

The JTS mission has always to work with their partners, who are smallholder farmers and producers in the developing world, and create a UK market for their goods – and to educate UK consumers to sustain and grow the UK market for their products.

John is stepping down as chairman at the age of 80.

Mary first got involved with JTS in 2012 and has been a non-executive director since September 2013.

She said: “John’s boots are huge ones to fill and there’s still a lot more work to do.

“Fifty per cent of the world’s poorest people are smallholder farmers, so the world remains clearly, an unfair and unjust place, which cannot be right.

“I’m looking forward to building upon what John has already achieved by continuing to work ethically with our partners and bring JTS to an even wider group of people.”

JTS has sold over £2 million worth of fair trade products in the last ten years and imported 250 tonnes of Kilombero rice from Malawi.

Each sale of 90kg enables a rice farmer to send a child to secondary school for a year.