Poverty and poor nutrition remains a challenge for farmers

Poverty and poor nutrition remains a challenge for farmers

by Mollie Letheren Smith

As the effects of COVID-19 continue to be felt around the world, already vulnerable communities may be pushed further into severe food crises, further exacerbating the existing issues of poverty and hunger facing many.

Whether due to conflict, social unrest, the climate crisis or another reason, too many people are already not eating enough to live a long healthy life. Even when food is in supply, the food available provides limited health benefits. A recent article by The Independent reported that rice, wheat and maize provide more than 50% of the world’s plant-derived calories. So while the food intake may be calorie rich and provide energy, people are not getting the right nutrients from such diets.

In Latin America and the Caribbean hunger is a growing concern. According to a recent report by the United Nations Food Programme, COVID-19 puts 14 million additional people at risk of missing meals in the Latin America and Caribbean region, with women most likely to be affected. In countries like Haiti, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Bolivia, which already registered high levels of populations suffering hunger before the outbreak, there is concern that disruptions to supply chains, currency devaluation, and trade constraints could exacerbate this.

In April, Fairtrade coffee exports fell 32 percent, most likely due to the closure of coffee shops, restaurants, and hotels in much of North America and Europe, meaning a huge portion of farmers’ income has been lost. Without the Fairtrade Premium safety net, which can now be used as emergency cash payments to ensure farmers get their usual wage, many farmers simply wouldn’t be able to afford enough food to feed their families. Along with the Premium, which also helps producers to provide a safe working environment for workers and farmers, Fairtrade Latin America have encouraged producers and workers in the region to start kitchen gardens, and promote local fairs to try to guarantee food supplies and generate additional income in the coming months.

Cocoa farmers in West Africa are also struggling. A recent report by Fairtrade in conjunction with Mondelez found that many cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, two countries which combined produce 60 percent of the world’s cocoa, are living in extreme poverty. Cocoa supports about 2 million farmers in the region but the average farmer lives on just $1.50 or less per day.

That’s why at the end of 2018, Fairtrade established preliminary Living Income Reference Prices for cocoa from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. A Living Income Reference Price indicates the price needed for an average farmer household with a viable farm size and an adequate productivity level to make a living income from the sales of their crop. During the planning stage, it was discovered that the cost of a nutritious diet makes up for approximately half the living cost.

Furthermore, Fairtrade increased the Minimum Price and the Premium, the amount paid to farmers on top of the market price, by 20% from October 2019 as a first step towards a decent income.

The added complication of COVID-19 has meant that cocoa prices have reduced by 25%, and the transport of cocoa is increasingly difficult with border closures. There is growing concern for cocoa communities due to high rates of pre-existing health conditions, poverty, poor nutrition and a lack of adequate health facilities. That is why putting farmers first, providing living incomes, and putting in place coherent joined up sustainability interventions, is more important than ever.

The Premium is currently being used to allow farmers and workers to prepare much-needed food packages for distribution among vulnerable members of the community, and cash disbursements to provide supplies to workers.

Ultimately, sustainability programs can only do so much to address farmers’ immediate priorities, including feeding their families. Fairtrade is raising ‘relief funds’ both to support immediate relief and long term resilience for those affected by COVID-19.

While the Relief Fund targets immediate needs, it is clear that the pandemic will also have an extreme effect on global supply chains and trade worldwide, often with the impact only to be felt in the next planting/harvest season. The Fairtrade Producer Resilience Fund, currently funded at €1,000,000 by members of the Fairtrade system, is being established to meet the longer-term needs of producers as they begin to look at life after COVID-19.

To ensure that the needs of every producer affected by the pandemic is met, we’re continuing to look for additional funding sources within the system, as well as with partners.

Fairtrade provides a safety net to help protect producers from volatile prices and enable them to invest in their farms and communities as they wish. But Fairtrade alone will not achieve zero hunger.

World hunger is a global issue that can only be solved by a global effort. From farmers, workers and traders in countries of origin, to corporate partners, retailers, stakeholders, and government, everyone has their part to play to ensure food security for generations to come.