8 ways Fairtrade farmers protect the environment

Farmers say the climate emergency is one of the number one threats they face. Millions of farmers around the world who rely on agriculture for their livelihoods are among the worst affected.

Environmental protection is ingrained in Fairtrade. To sell Fairtrade products, farmers have to improve soil and water quality, manage pests, avoid using harmful chemicals, manage waste, reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and protect biodiversity. Here are eight ways Fairtrade supports farmers to survive the climate emergency and reduce their own carbon footprint.

1. Reforestation projects to store carbon

Many Fairtrade co-operatives choose to invest their Fairtrade Premium in reforestation projects. Planting trees on cleared, degraded land prevents soil erosion and binds and stores carbon dioxide. The trees also improve biodiversity, protect soils, and provide a habitat for indigenous wildlife. Sireet OEP in East Africa planted 150k trees in a year alone.  

Reforestation and biodiversity project in Kenya

2. Prohibiting harmful agrochemicals

Fairtrade prohibits the use of certain agrochemicals that are harmful to the environment and encourages farmers to reduce their use of pesticides.

Vietnam is known worldwide for exporting large volumes of coffee, and farmers often suffer the negative environmental impact of using chemical pesticides. Eakiet, one of the first Fairtrade cooperatives in Vietnam, is based in a region enriched with natural resources and several national parks. Through training, the co-operative has stopped using pesticides and herbicides. If there is an outbreak of insects, they use high-pressure water to remove them. They continuously weed and prune their trees during the rainy season when the risk of pests and disease increases.

3. Growing trees and crops together

Growing trees and several kinds of crops together increases families’ farm yields and, with it, their access to food and income.

Trees provide shade for crops and when the leaves fall and decompose, they make the soil more fertile and crops get a better yield. It also enables diversified food production and helps to improve families’ intake of nutritional food, which is especially important for persons living with HIV.

Agroforestry project in Kenya
Copyright: screenshot from video entitled ‘Fairtrade’s impact on farmers and workers’.

4. Climate emergency adaptation training

Fairtrade promotes training on climate crisis mitigation for farmers. For example, some training offers advice on switching to environmentally friendly practices, such as developing nutrient-rich soils that support healthy plants and encouraging wildlife to help control pests and diseases.

In 2013, organic banana producers from Piura in Peru were hit by a severe outbreak of the ‘red rust thrips’ pest, believed to be triggered by the climate crisis. This affected 40 percent of farms and reduced exports by 30 percent. In partnership with a German retailer, a local university and a banana co-operative, Fairtrade implemented a project to train farmers to find solutions to the outbreak, such as increasing biodiversity and using local plants to repel the insects. By the end of the project, red rust thrips were under control and the amount of discarded crop was at a minimum.

Bananas damaged by red rust thrips

5. Wildlife conservation projects

Coobana Co-operative in Panama uses a slice of the Fairtrade Premium they earn from selling bananas to protect endangered turtles that hatch on beaches nearby. With this money, they invest in a local NGO, patrol the beaches at night during hatching season and clean up the shoreline. River-dwelling manatees have also won the support of Coobana Co-operative. A separate fund helps protect and feed the local population of manatees who suffer from the high levels of pollution found in the rivers.

Wildlife Conservation project in Panama - left manatee and right baby turtle

6. Fairtrade Carbon Credits

Carbon credits in essence are tonnes of carbon dioxide that have been prevented from entering or have been removed from the atmosphere. Companies can purchase credits to take responsibility for the emissions they produce. These credits can be earnt by smallholder farmers through sustainability projects such as reforestation and switching to biogas stoves. The funding for these projects is covered by the carbon credits and the farmers receive a Fairtrade Premium. Find out more about the Fairtrade Carbon Credits.

7. Switching to Green Energy Fuels

Deforestation for firewood is a big issue in Ethiopia. The rapid deforestation is directly related to poverty. As people need to sustain their livelihoods, 46 percent of felling is due to daily energy needs. Traditionally, many people cook over an open-fire, which is both harmful to the environment and women’s health. The use of solid fuel open fires and leaky stoves causes an estimated 4.3 million premature deaths each year (according to WHO’s household air pollution and health key facts). Smoke kills more people than TB, HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. Oromia Co-operative in Ethiopia has taken part in the carbon credit initiative to purchase biogas stoves.

This project equipped 10,000 coffee farmers with 20,000 efficient cookstoves. The new stoves reduce the use of firewood by 50 percent, the release of harmful soot particles by 24 – 45 percent, and carbon emissions up to 70 percent. Powered by cow dung, these biogas stoves create by-products which can be used as organic fertiliser on the farm.

Find out more about Oromia Co-operative

Mixing and processing the cow dung to produce biogas for the cook stove and cooking on the stove.

8. Reducing water usage

COOCAFE co-operative in Costa Rica spent some of their Fairtrade Premium on a new water treatment system in processing plants. This new system has reduced water use from 2,000-3,000 litres per 225 kg of coffee to 200 litres. Find out more about COOCAFE co-operative

When you buy Fairtrade, you are supporting farmers through the often devastating impact of the climate emergency. 

Read more on what Fairtrade does to support sustainability.

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