Fairtrade was set up as a response to the terrible exploitation of farmers and workers in global supply chains following a price crisis in coffee, when the price farmers received for their beans slumped to historic lows. During a time when shoppers expected more and more choice for less, few companies in those days stopped to think about their impact on the people who toiled in the fields to grow our coffee, cocoa or cotton, or their environment, and Fairtrade set out to change that public mind-set. Fewer still took the time to listen to what those farmers had to say.
To become Fairtrade certified, farmers and workers are expected to be organized into co-operative groups and to be able to prove their organisations are well-run, democratic and transparent. Representative decision-making is more than just a nice to have, over the past twenty-five years it has ensured that producers decide how to invest their profits according to local priorities. But today Fairtrade is undoubtedly needed more than ever. The global coffee industry is facing an unprecedented price crisis which not only threatens our daily cup but also – far more importantly – jeopardises the livelihoods of millions of small-scale growers around the world. And our planet is facing climate breakdown. What many people don’t realize is that our work on trade and economic justice is urgently required to bring about climate justice. In the face of climate emergency, we need to make sure that this year the voices of the most marginalised groups of farmers are heard, in ways that they haven’t previously. Among them are the women who grow cocoa in West Africa.
We are shining a light on the desperate need for living incomes for cocoa farmers, through the voices of the farmers themselves. When farmers earn less than a living income, they can’t afford to send their children to school or provide enough nutritious food for their families. Our research reveals that most cocoa farmers in West Africa are surviving on less than 75p a day, with women earning as little as 23p a day. And they are experiencing climate change which is affecting their crops. Cocoa farmer Edith Kuome from Cote D’Ivoire explained to me recently that because of climate change, “some of the vegetables we usually grow to feed our families are dying due to the scarcity of rain.” But it’s not just Edith’s vegetable garden that is affected.
Longer term, the impact of the climate crisis, including rising temperatures and erratic rainfall, risks reducing cocoa yields. Many of the cocoa lands will be become too hot to grow cocoa by 2050, experts fear. Farmers are already experiencing the spread of pests and diseases.
“Because of climate change we want to diversify our crops so that every season we have something to eat and sell locally. Climate change affects our cocoa and leads to lower yields and poor quality beans. In dry seasons and during droughts, the beans shrink due to lack of water and the cocoa pods are much smaller, and if you prune when there is no rain, the trees can die because of scarcity of water. But when there is too much rain, we can’t tend our farm properly or prune, which is necessary to fight pests.”
It’s estimated that 57% of land cultivated for cocoa outside certified sources originates from primary forest. But without action to keep farmer incomes stable, people are forced to move into forested areas to make ends meet.
“Thanks to Fairtrade’s farm school, we’ve been trained in good agricultural practices. We were also taught about agro forestry. We learned we can plant trees on our cocoa farms, including those that produce fruit. The difference all this training has made is an increase in productivity. Now we know that rather than expanding, we should improve our practices and our productivity will increase as a result. As we are facing such a scarcity of water, we need to focus on good farming practice.”
Fairtrade farmers must meet environmental standards designed to reduce pesticide use and deforestation. They forbid cutting down protected forests for crops. The Fairtrade Minimum Price and Premium support Fairtrade farmers to make these changes, but other farmers don’t have these safety nets.
Ebrottie Tanoh Florentin, a cocoa farmer in Cote D’Ivoire, warns: “climate change is a global issue. We, the farmers, have to deal with its consequences every day. For instance, this year we lacked food because of the heat. The production decreased this year too, so this affects the economy. People harvested less and received less money. So we all suffer from the negative consequences of the climate: it impacts the environment and our economy.
Supporting living incomes is important both to help cocoa farmers cope with the worst effects of climate breakdown, and to prevent deforestation linked to cocoa production from making it even worse.”
Increasing producers’ confidence, through having a voice and taking control, is not just good for the farmers and workers themselves. It also helps ensure strong farming communities who in turn become better suppliers and longer-term business partners. Putting farmers first is good for business. By working with Fairtrade, companies are supporting biodiversity, environmentally friendly farming and helping farmers adapt to and mitigate against the effects of climate change.
From sourcing on Fairtrade terms to large-scale interventions and innovative partnerships, together we can tackle the biggest challenges facing the people who produce your products. The expertise we offer is built on 25 years at the head of a movement for change that partners with businesses, consumers and campaigners to make trade work for farmers and workers.
- The FAIRTRADE Mark was the first ethical label and we remain the most recognised and trusted ethical label in the UK; 8 out of 10 people trust the Fairtrade mark.
- Behind the label sits one of the largest and most diverse independent global movements for change and grassroots supporter base of over 400 Fairtrade Towns, 912 Fairtrade schools, as well as multiple universities and faith groups. We reach millions of Britons annually with our important message about global trade and make it possible for them to make a difference through their shopping choices.
- The UK market for Fairtrade products generated £30.23million for producers to invest in farmer and worker-led projects to boost local economies and improve community services in the Global South. New programmes to tackle systemic issues facing farmers and workers today are going further to supplement the impact of Fairtrade sales. Shoppers can now choose between 6,000 products across 20 supply chains– household name brands, high street coffee shops and retailers. £30.23 million – 24th July 2019
Image credit: Chris Terry