Millions of farmers in developing countries who produce everyday foods for UK consumers are themselves still going hungry and struggling to feed their families, the Fairtrade Foundation has warned. At the start of Fairtrade Fortnight (Feb 29 – March 13) the organisation highlights that, while we sit down to a breakfast coffee, the periods of food shortage are so acute for some coffee farmers they’ve acquired their own grim names such as Chulga (food suffering) in Ethiopia, or Los Meses Flacos (the thin months) in Nicaragua.

“It’s a tragic irony that so many of the people we rely on three times a day, from breakfast to dinner, should be going hungry themselves in the 21st century,” said Michael Gidney, CEO of the Fairtrade Foundation. “The current system is broken and farmers are paying the true cost on our behalf.”

Figures from the Fairtrade Foundation’s new briefing Breaking Fast highlight how small-scale farmers and plantation workers supplying our breakfasts as part of multibillion-pound coffee, tea, cocoa and banana industries often struggle to feed their own families all year round. The organisation has launched a national campaign in which thousands of people across the UK will “sit down for breakfast and stand up for farmers” - in order to raise awareness about the plight of farming families facing poverty, and support better, fairer trade for growers of tea, cocoa, bananas, coffee and other crops sourced from around the world.

To produce the world’s breakfasts:

- In the world’s main tea producing regions, more than 30% of children are malnourished – resulting in stunted physical and mental development. In Malawi, this rises to 50%
- 65% of cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire lack enough resources for food during the months of July and August. 80% live on less than 40p a day per person
- Smallholder coffee farmers in three Central American countries were found to have no guarantee of food security for 3-4 months every year

 “Before Fairtrade we were losing money and that caused us to reduce our nourishment,” says Leonidas Jiménez Chaparro, a small-scale farmer from Banafrucoop Cooperative, Colombia.  “We had to measure the amount of food – the rice, the meat, our clothes… Those were critical times. I had either breakfast or lunch. We always tried to have our dinner. The portions were small and didn’t leave us full.”

“Farmers are going hungry to provide our breakfast, because we are not paying the true social and environmental cost of our food. Our world is increasingly unequal and unfair, but we can use the pound in our pocket to help choose carefully what we buy,” continued Gidney. “During Fairtrade Fortnight, thousands of people will stand up for farmers as they sit down to breakfast - we want governments and businesses to take notice and do the same.”

Fairtrade’s campaign follows recent warnings by the UN and other organisations of an impending food crisis, after two years of erratic rains and drought alongside the powerful El Nino events and rising food prices.

Under the Fairtrade system, as well as either the market price or the safety net of a minimum price that covers the cost of production if the market crashes, farmers’ and workers’ groups uniquely earn an additional Fairtrade Premium payment to improve social, economic and environmental conditions, according to their decided need.

Fairtrade’s monitoring and evaluation research reveals how many smallholder farmers benefitting from Fairtrade enjoy slightly higher and more stable incomes. For example, smallholder banana farmers in Colombia reported an average 34% increase in income due to their affiliation to Fairtrade. This can lead to improvements in standards of living, with households being able to save more easily and also being able to invest more. Several studies show investments in productivity improvements as well as diversification projects that reduce vulnerability, such as improving food security through additional crops or small-scale livestock rearing.

Meanwhile, it’s been found that workers on some plantations have used their Fairtrade Premium for the bulk purchase of maize to provide to individual workers at a subsidised rate during difficult months, as well as providing loan schemes to set up additional income generation projects.  Research at Satemwa Tea Estate in Malawi has shown that one of the most significant benefits that workers believe Fairtrade certification has supported them with is food security. 

“Nowadays we get paid a really good price,” says banana farmer Leonidas Chaparro in Colombia. “It’s enough for our education and our nourishment. Now that we are getting a better price thanks to Fairtrade we are also able to pay our workers the mandatory salary, health care and social security,”

Fairtrade helps farmers get a better deal but only by businesses, governments and consumers working together can real sustainable change be achieved. The UK government made wide-ranging promises to tackle hunger when signing up to the UN’s new Global Goals. They must now make good on these important pledges to tackle food insecurity for smallholder farmers and rural workers, and promote long term sustainable agriculture. The whole of government needs to encourage fair and sustainable production and consumption in order to help tackle the hunger faced by farmers and workers.

Fairtrade Breaking Fast - media briefing 

To interview Michael Gidney or a Fairtrade producer please contact the media team below.

For B-Roll and images please contact a member of the media team. 

For the Fairtrade Foundation: media@fairtrade.org.uk / 020 7440 7692

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Notes to Editors

The Fairtrade Foundation is an independent certification body which licenses the use of the FAIRTRADE Mark on products which meet international Fairtrade standards. This independent consumer label appears on products to show that disadvantaged producers are getting a better deal from trade. Today, more than 1.5 million people – farmers and workers – across more than 74 developing countries benefit from the international Fairtrade system.

Over 5,000 products have been licensed to carry the FAIRTRADE Mark in the UK including coffee, tea, herbal teas, chocolate, cocoa, sugar, bananas, grapes, pineapples, mangoes, avocados, apples, pears, plums, grapefruit, lemons, oranges, satsumas, clementines, mandarins, lychees, dried fruit, juices, smoothies, biscuits, cakes & snacks, honey, jams & preserves, chutney, rice, quinoa, herbs & spices, seeds, nuts, wines, ales, rum, confectionery, muesli, cereal bars, ice-cream, flowers, sports balls, sugar body scrub and cotton products including clothing, homeware, cotton wool, olive oil, gold, silver and platinum.

Awareness of the FAIRTRADE Mark continues to be high in 2014, at a level of 78%.