Fairtrade coffee farmers in Kenya taking action to prepare for climate change despite the harmful impact, a new study shows

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Fairtrade coffee farmer
  • Research using new technology methods delivers uniquely rich farmer perspectives in real time.
  • 80% of Fairtrade farmers surveyed reported that they feel prepared to face the effects of climate change.
  • 72% of farmers reported that the price they receive for Fairtrade coffee allows them to invest in their farms to prepare for climate change.

A new study published by the Fairtrade Foundation, which includes farmers’ views in real-time, gathered direct from the field via mobile phone technology, warns that 93% of Fairtrade coffee farmers who were surveyed in the pilot research in Kenya are already experiencing climate change, including more erratic rainfall and an increase in pests and diseases.

Extreme weather causes yield losses and, in the longer term, threatens farmers’ ability to grow coffee in the future. Adaptation measures to help avoid the worst damage caused by the climate crisis comes with a heavy financial cost for farmers. As well as losing income from damaged coffee beans through diseases or pests such as thrips and coffee berry disease, it costs farmers extra money to invest in planting new varieties of coffee plants, manage infestations or grow alternative crops to generate extra income.

The Fairtrade Foundation and Fairtrade Africa completed this pilot study to capture the impact of climate change on coffee production and the steps farmers are taking to adapt to increasing global temperatures. The study includes testimonies from farmers collected through Fairtrade’s mobile phone reporting project, FairVoice. It spotlights farmers producing Arabica varieties of coffee, which are grown for their improved taste, need a temperature range of 18-22°C for best results and are particularly sensitive to changes in average temperature compared to the more heat-tolerant Robusta.

The consistent finding across the two data sources proves that stable prices not only benefit coffee production but also allow farmers to invest in other activities that improve long-term sustainability.

Fairtrade makes training and programmes available to producers so they can use the latest agricultural methods, and 90% of coffee farmers surveyed reported applying a variety of new farming strategies as a result.

Me and my community are trying to preserve water sources, planting trees and preventing soil erosion. We make decisions through discussion and community meetings.

John Gachenga, coffee farmer and FairVoice Community Researcher

Through new farming methods, farmers are also increasing biodiversity, which is improving the long-term sustainability of their businesses and livelihoods.

When the soil is well covered by trees, and ground cover insects, it helps coffee pollination have a good habitat, which raises the production… Due to climate change, the community are now planting fast-growing crops like cassava and sweet potatoes. By implementing new crops, we can sell trees, and we can have firewood. Ground cover helps coffee to keep water. It helps coffee not to dry. Fairtrade supports us with training on these diversity techniques.

David Waithaka, coffee farmer and FairVoice Community Researcher

FairVoice: Harnessing mobile technology to amplify producer insights includes data collected using a combination of FairVoice mobile phone technology and community research, allowing farmers to give their views in real time straight from the field. This is the first time that both methodologies have been run as part of the same project, making the results rich and unique.

Our vision for FairVoice is to use technology to create greater connections for farmers and workers, ensuring they have a greater voice and influence within value chains and in Fairtrade.

This will give commercial actors a greater understanding of farmers’ needs in their supply chains and will enable farmers’ voices and insights on the issues that affect them to have greater visibility in sector discussions.

Our planet will be a much hotter place in the coming decades. This is the future that the world’s farmers and agricultural workers now face. And it is a future that endangers popular products like coffee if we don’t take action now. That’s why it’s encouraging to hear from Fairtrade farmers about the support that Fairtrade offers when it comes to supporting them to face the climate reality.

Rachel Wadham, Head of Evidence and Insights at the Fairtrade Foundation

Key findings from the research include:

  • 93% of farmers surveyed reported experiencing the effects of climate change on their farms.
  • 90% of farmers reported using climate-friendly agricultural practices.
  • 80% of farmers reported that they feel prepared to face the effects of climate change.
  • 72% of farmers reported that the price they receive for Fairtrade coffee allows them to invest in their farms to prepare for climate change.
  • 77% of farmers reported feeling that their small producer organisation (SPO) spends Fairtrade Premium on projects that help them prepare for climate change.
  • Farmers in the three cooperatives surveyed reported using the Fairtrade Price to invest in climate resilience on their farms, including environmentally friendly water and pest management, planting shade trees, and diversifying their income to improve their economic resilience.
  • Farmers discussed their co-operatives investing the Fairtrade Premium in projects that help them prepare for climate change, including hiring agronomists, purchasing solar coffee driers, and distributing new, climate-resilient varieties of coffee plants.
  • Despite the challenges posed by climate change, the level of optimism farmers had for the future of coffee farming was generally high, and from analysis of farmers’ responses, many show high levels of high adaptive capacity linked to high prices paid for coffee Fairtrade believes that future research following the increase in the Fairtrade Minimum Price for coffee in 2023 will be useful to understand the extent to which the price increase further supports farmers with climate adaptation.

You can download the report here.

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For more information, images or interviews, please contact martine.parry@fairtrade.org.uk – Tel: 07886 301486

Notes to editors

  • FairVoice uses a tech platform that enables direct, two-way communication between farmers and workers and Fairtrade and our supply chains. Using their mobile phones, farmers and workers can share insights and respond to questions, which are received directly by the platform. They can do this at times that are convenient for them, and they have been reporting that this helps them to share more openly and honestly about their needs and concerns.
  • Two-way dialogue in this way ensures that farmers and workers have a greater voice and more immediate influence across Fairtrade. It also helps to bridge the gap between commercial actors and the Fairtrade supply chains by hearing from farmers and workers about issues that are affecting them and the realities they are facing in real-time.
  • We implement FairVoice in two ways: FairVoice community research to surface qualitative insights and FairVoice mobile surveys for quantitative insights.
  • FairVoice Community Researching utilises a story-based data collection methodology. We work with small numbers of participants to provide training on the power of sharing their experiences, how to share their insights via mobile technology, and how to safely reach out to their local community to collect and share their experiences. This snowball sampling methodology means that harder-to-reach individuals can share their insights via trusted local community participants. Participants receive questions on their phones, typically relating to open-ended themes that they have helped to select or prioritise. The stories and insights are shared back via text, voice notes, photos or video, depending on phone access and the preference of the participants.
  • The first stage of the pilot was completed in August 2022.