Paradoxically, out of the billion people classified as food insecure by the United Nations, about 500 million are smallholder farmers in developing economies. Some of these producers export luxury goods such as coffee, cocoa, exotic fruits and sugar for consumers in developed economies. Due to low and volatile prices coupled with unfair trade rules, they simply don’t earn enough to feed their families all year round and often experience the problem of seasonal hunger between harvests.

This lack of food can lead to stunted growth, a weakened immune system, and greater vulnerability to disease and infection. Children are particularly vulnerable, as periods of undernutrition can hamper both their physical and mental development. Seasonal hunger is a serious problem for many coffee and cocoa farmers. Small-scale coffee producers in three Central American countries were found to have no guarantee of food security for three to four months each year.

Fairtrade was originally created to work with marginalized smallholder farmers like a “A commercial partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect which seeks greater equity in international trade”.

Sale of Fairtrade products became 7.3 billion euros (10.4 billion Australian dollars) in collaboration with 1230 producer organizations made up of 1.6 million farmers. [Pacific-region farmers earned $21 million in Fairtrade revenue in 2014; more than 3000 Fairtrade products are sold in Australia and New Zealand.] Fairtrade certification actively supports producers in developing countries through the importation and retailing of their products. In addition, acting as a social movement, Fair Trade advocates for changes in the conventional terms and conditions of international trade that disadvantage producers in developing economies.

The movement prioritizes socio-economic factors by striving to facilitate market access for producers, paying producers a fair minimum price that offers producers a guaranteed price when the world market price falls below this level. The stability of the Fairtrade minimum price means that producer cooperatives may be able to obtain finance and credit services. Cooperatives also gain security through longer term contracts with exporters through the Fairtrade market.

Social premium

In addition, regardless of the conventional market price, Fairtrade system producers also receive a social premium per tonne of product (for cocoa it is $ 200 per tonne) which is used for community infrastructure projects such as as crop diversification programs to combine cash and food crops, construction of schools, water supply and health services.

Jane Sepkazi, 36, a member of the Sireet OEP tea cooperative in Kenya, is one of the women farmers who have been trained by their Fairtrade partners to grow different crops as part of her organization’s plan to increase food security for local people. farmers. The idea is to make farmers less dependent on tea for their income and to offer ways to use their land to produce food. Sepkazi lives on her 0.2 hectare farm with her parents and two children and in addition to tea, she has chickens and a vegetable garden. “I learned how to raise poultry, so I don’t just rely on my tea harvest,” she said.

The impact of Fairtrade is significant. A study by the Evaluation Center of the University of Saarland in Germany found that small farmers who benefited from fair trade appreciated higher and more stable incomes than the producers of the respective comparison groups. Another study involving coffee farmers in Uganda showed that participation in Fairtrade increased household living standards by 30 percent and significantly reduced prevalence and depth of poverty.

Banana farmer Julio Mercado Cantillo, 57, lives on his farm in Macondo, Colombia, with his wife Alicia, their children and grandchildren. For Cantillo, one of the benefits of Fairtrade has been better and more stable prices for his bananas, which has improved his income and his family’s food security. Cantillo explains:

When we started growing bananas, it was difficult. There were days when we only had one meal. Since joining Fairtrade everything has changed. We now have all of our daily meals and we have also succeeded, with the additional income from Fairtrade, in purchasing farm animals which provide an additional source of food and the possibility of generating more income by selling the animals.

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Latin America after Haiti and during the “lean season” before the coffee harvest, farmers in central Nicaragua often rely on food programs to feed their children. To remedy this, the COOMPROCOM coffee cooperative invested its Fairtrade premium income in programs focused on food and nutrition security in the community. These include the establishment of a revolving fund that allows farmers to access quick loans to make emergency food purchases. Another is a program focused on child nutrition that encourages farmers to grow food crops (such as beans, rice, tomatoes and corn) and to diversify diets so that they are less dependent on food purchases. food.

Growing network

To help tackle the problem of seasonal hunger, the Fairtrade movement has also spawned some very interesting financial institutions such as Shared interest, Oikocredit and cordiality which provide social finance for innovative business mechanisms for smallholder groups such as pre-finance for individual orders, credit and loans for inventory, and pre-harvest loans when cash flow is a major issue for producers.

Being part of the Fairtrade system provides a very useful safety net for small farmers, but it cannot be done in isolation. Fairtrade works best when it operates as part of a larger system – in a collaborative framework backed by supportive policy at national and local levels and coupled with meaningful commitments from companies.

There is still a lot of work to be done to maintain the positive impact of Fairtrade – the movement must keep up the pressure on policy makers and business leaders to ensure that consumers can choose Fairtrade at the point of purchase. In the UK, Fairtrade companies must fight to maintain their position on supermarket shelves – and the movement must step up efforts to communicate with consumers to explain how their purchase of Fairtrade products can help people like Sepkazi and the Cantillo family to keep their heads above water even when times are tough.

Bob doherty, Professor of Marketing and Principal Investigator of IknowFood (4 year program of the Global Fund for Food Security), York University. This article was originally published on The conversation. Read it original article. lead image by Drew mclellan via Flickr.



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