Coffee, cocoa, bananas and many other products we rely on come from small farms in countries already badly affected by climate change, and this year they’ve been hit by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic too. How can we ensure that they have the means to build back fairer after this?
Buying Fairtrade when you shop will support farmers through this climate emergency and beyond the pandemic. Fairer prices and Fairtrade Standards help to build stronger farms and communities, because more money means more capacity to adapt, whether that’s through training or opportunities to diversify.
Here are five inspiring ways farmers and Fairtrade are tackling the effects of climate change.
1. Fairtrade trains young people in climate leadership
As we have seen with climate activists like Greta Thunberg, young people taking the lead can start a powerful movement for change. Leadership schools run by Fairtrade are already seeing success in empowering women in West Africa. For South America and the Caribbean, the focus is on young people and the climate crisis.
Since 2018, 112 young people from across the region have graduated as climate leaders and started to pass on their skills more widely in their communities. This approach recognises the importance of the role young people have to play in calling for nature-friendly adaptation to climate change. As well as the wider impact of the climate crisis, the curriculum covers the skills students will need to make their voices heard in their communities, such as advocacy, public speaking, effective communication and other leadership techniques.
‘I have been trained as a leader in the face of climate change, it has been a very important issue for us. We have also learned about the importance of leadership in our networks, in our organisations and as young people we have committed to undertaking new challenges, taking care of the environment,’ said Irene Huarachi Arcayne, a producer at the National Association of Quinoa Producers (ANAPQUI) and a representative of youth in the Quinoa Network in Bolivia.
2. Cocoa farmers plant trees to protect crops and soil fertility
In West Africa, where most of the world’s cocoa is farmed, one of the biggest challenges farmers face is keeping the cocoa trees cool and shaded enough to bear fruit. As the climate becomes increasingly hot and wet, it becomes harder for farmers to give their crops the conditions they need. But increasing the amount of shade means healthier growing environments.
In 2020, Fairtrade worked in partnership with Ben & Jerry’s and their cocoa trader, Barry Callebaut, to plant 40,000 shade trees on cocoa farms, which benefited over 5,000 farmers. These trees act as protection for cocoa plants, to stop them getting stressed from heat and lack of water, and create conditions that promote growth. But their advantages don’t stop there. They also boost soil fertility with their shed leaves and offcuts, enriching the soil and recycling nutrients. They slow down soil erosion by contributing to leaf litter which prevents soil being washed away. They also make the farm more attractive to pollinators, which in turn increases pollination.
So, it’s all good for the cocoa trees, leading to bigger and more reliable harvests, which means more income and therefore more resilient farmers too.
3. Coffee farmers switch to clean energy powered by coffee husks
Switching to alternative energy sources in order to slow down climate change is often put forward as one thing we can do to help tackle the climate crisis. For some of us, this is as simple as a few clicks and a form to fill in. But in places where you find all your household fuel yourself, it’s not that straightforward.
There is however a solution that’s clean, green and powered by caffeine! With support from Fairtrade, coffee farmers in Kenya have been able to choose environmentally friendly energy sources in the form of 1,000 improved cookstoves. Rather than the traditional wood-fired set-ups, these energy-efficient stoves burn charcoal or briquettes and use less fuel in doing so. And it gets better. The farmers are now using waste husks from the coffee drying process to make briquettes. This project has seen a 60 percent reduction in the tonnage of firewood used among coffee farming households, plus a saving of time for women involved in searching for firewood.
4. Banana farmers facing unpredictable weather invest in irrigation
‘I feel satisfied with these programs, because if they didn’t exist, maybe our farms wouldn’t be sustainable.’ Juan Liriano, 46, voices the fear of many farmers – that their way of life may be becoming impossible.
The climate crisis is wreaking havoc with weather patterns everywhere, but for banana farmers in the Caribbean who depend on using rainfall to irrigate their crops, the unpredictability is disastrous. More effective irrigation systems on their plots are one way round this, so that there is more control over how much water the plants get.
However, when the price you get for your bananas keeps falling, there is not the spare money to experiment with new and expensive irrigation systems. For Fairtrade farmers in the co-operative of Las Mercedes in the Dominican Republic, there is a fund, through the Fairtrade Premium, for farmers to put in or upgrade their irrigation systems, so that their incomes from bananas are better protected.
5. Fairtrade funds resilience to climate change
Staying with the farmers from Las Mercedes who are seeing increasingly destructive weather year on year as a result of climate change. Although they can adapt their farms and change their techniques to respond to the changing climate, they know that eventually, a bigger disaster will strike – such as flooding or a hurricane – that will wipe out whole plots along with equipment. When such disasters occur, the farmers’ supply chains can’t wait for the produce and have to source from elsewhere, leaving the farmers who do not have a safety net in deep trouble.
How can you start again from scratch when you don’t get paid enough to cover your production costs in the first place? So as a Fairtrade co-operative, the farmers have set up a fund, where they put aside money from the Fairtrade Premium (an extra sum of money Fairtrade co-operatives receive) in case the worst happens and farms are destroyed.
Banana farmer Ángel Guzmán Santana says: ‘Thanks to the fund I have been able to continue to cultivate my land,’. Ángel adds: ‘An example is that, that area down there is an area that was 100 percent affected, and thanks to the fund I was able to work in that area again and now we are seeing the fruits of that help the fund provided.’ Without it, he says, he would either have had to wait longer to replant, or not been able to do it at all. Farmers can access the fund and begin the process of picking themselves up and putting all they have into farming bananas again, an example of true resilience.
It’s a fact that a solution to climate change is not just around the corner. When the climate crisis is threatening to destroy everything you’ve worked for, farmers have to keep one step ahead just to survive. This just isn’t possible when farmers receive low, unfair prices. For those dealing with this reality every day, Fairtrade offers one way to adapt to a changing climate by providing the extra money to invest in farms and technical training.
Choosing Fairtrade is choosing to stand with farmers facing climate change and bringing us closer to the fairer world we want.