31 March, 2014

Climate Change: Committing to helping producers adapt

by Orsola de Castro, Creative Director at fashion label From Somewhere

Orsola de Castro is creative director at fashion label From Somewhere, which makes clothes from recycled off cuts of luxury materials. She is also co-founder and co-curator of Estethica at London Fashion Week and a co-founder of Fashion Revolution Day. 

Here Orsola reflects on why following the thread in our clothes from beginning to end is vital and why we need a revolution in fashion.

climateIt has long been past the point where we can pretend climate change is something that will not impact us in our own lifetimes. Today’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) outlines in even greater detail the catastrophic effects greenhouse gases are having on our planet, and the impact this in turn is having on agriculture – specifically food production, human health and ecosystems, now – not within centuries.  

The picture is not positive for the millions of smallholder farmers who produce the food for 70 per cent of the world’s people. Several studies have predicted that by 2050, the productivity of coffee, cocoa, tea or cotton will be severely affected and production in some areas might even disappear. Many farmers will need to adapt their practices, or risk losing their livelihoods.

Earlier studies from the IPCC predicted that crop yields from rain-fed agriculture will likely fall due to global warming – by up to 50 per cent by 2020 in some African countries and by up to 30 per cent by 2050 in Central and South Asia.

Coffee farmers are already experiencing the spread of pests and disease. Higher temperatures, erratic rains or periods of drought are disrupting production. For the KDCU cooperative in Tanzania, which has produced Fairtrade coffee since 1995, changing weather patterns are disrupting coffee growing. Its 17,838 members have been left with a vastly reduced output of coffee beans as a result, with a crippling drought from 2011 wiping out some members’ coffee crop. Fairtrade coffee producers in Latin America are currently being severely affected by the spread of the leaf rust disease, which is affecting over 50 per cent of the total coffee growing area in Central America. Climate change has been identified as a key factor in the outbreak.

Tea production in East Africa is likely to become less viable at lower altitudes within the next few decades as rainfall increases and becomes less predictable, while a reduction in quality is also likely.

Cocoa production is threatened by the increased susceptibility of trees to drought – in West Africa, where large volumes of cocoa are produced for the chocolate we love here in the UK, variability in seasonal rainfall is already affecting cocoa yields, and farmers’ livelihoods.

The reality is that all agricultural output will be affected by changing temperatures and erratic rainfall. What is Fairtrade doing to support the farmers and workers in the Fairtrade system? Fairtrade is working to help smallholder farmers adapt, by enabling technical and financial support to help confront the challenges ahead. We want to enable vulnerable producers to adapt to climate change and support them to mitigate the impacts, as part of promoting good sustainable development practices.

landslideFairtrade standards include strong environmental standards to promote both sustainable development and good agricultural practice. These include measures like banning the use of listed pesticides and ensuring farmers are trained properly in the correct disposal of harmful waste that could impact both the producer’s health and the environment. Producers are required to protect existing natural resources and are encouraged to reduce their energy consumption. Soil conservation, using animal and green manure, agro-forestry and water harvesting are all part of sustainable farming methods being used by Fairtrade farmers.

But, we are also helping our producers go beyond the standards.

For many smallholders, the need is for small loans to make investments in their more sustainable production methods and technologies, or to diversify into new varieties or crops. Fairtrade helps by encouraging companies buying from Fairtrade producers to provide pre-financing. Producers can also decide together where the Fairtrade Premium is used, and can choose to invest in technologies to help adapt to climate change or other environmental sustainability measures.  More stable and additional finance like this helps farmers working with Fairtrade invest in adapting to climate change and mitigate against its impacts on their livelihoods.

St Lucia hurricaneBut the challenge is massive, and much more needs to be done.

In our 2013 report, Powering Up Smallholder Farmers to Make Food Fair, we said that governments, international donors and multilateral institutions needed to greatly increase investment in promoting sustainable agriculture and helping farmers adapt to climate change. This recommendation is just as relevant today. Donors providing climate change funding also need to consult smallholder farmer groups closely so their needs are kept central to plans.

Businesses too need to increase investment in climate adaptation techniques and technologies for the smallholder farmers with which they work, and from whom they source. Apart from being the right thing to do, it is in their self-interest to do so: today’s report makes clear that without such investment their ability to source food products from staple crops such as cereals and fresh fruit, to commodities such as coffee, cocoa and tea in the future is profoundly at risk.

Perhaps such a realisation would also encourage the business community to raise their voice more loudly to increase pressure on governments to move quicker and with greater ambition to reduce CO2 emissions.

Fairtrade is ready to play its part in helping producers adapt to climate change. But we can’t do it alone – we need businesses and governments to step up their level of commitment. I hope that the stark warnings from the IPCC help to make that happen.

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