Mar 4, 2019
In his last article, Joe Human looked at how highly volatile and low global coffee prices can devastate the lives of farmers selling their coffee into the global market. For Fairtrade Fortnight (25th February to 10th March), Joe's latest article examines how livelihoods can be transformed through Fairtrade.
After the coffee crisis of 2002/03, when world arabica prices plunged to an all-time low with such devastating consequences for the farmers of Choche, their organisation – The Choche Coffee Farmers’ Multipurpose Cooperative – applied for and was awarded Fairtrade certification. The process was carried out by the certification arm of Fairtrade International, and required a number of standards to be met. These included the participation of women, sustainable farming practices, financial transparency and product quality.
Access to the global Fairtrade market
Having Fairtrade certification was a huge step forward for Choche’s farmers because it meant that they now had access to the global Fairtrade market. But it’s important to stress that having access to this market didn’t mean that they would now automatically get Fairtrade prices for their coffee. Someone, somewhere, had to buy their coffee on Fairtrade terms, and that meant in the first place coffee importers and roasters, secondly retailers, and thirdly consumers – you and me.
To begin with they didn’t sell much of their coffee on Fairtrade terms: most of it still went into the conventional market. But over time more and more of it entered the Fairtrade market and slowly on our frequent visits we saw a real transformation taking place.
In 2007, one farmer, Mulugeta Ababa (see picture above), who has just 3 acres of coffee, told me that the fair and stable price guaranteed by Fairtrade meant that he could keep his children in school, feed and clothe his family and plan for their future. It didn’t make him rich, but it did make him feel secure and less vulnerable to forces over which he had no control, because Fairtrade will always pay a minimum price that covers costs. And if the global price exceeds that minimum price, it will always rise with it so farmers never lose out.
But as explained in my first article, Fairtrade and Fair Trade – What is the difference, there is a second element to Fairtrade. This is the premium, which is paid to the farmers’ cooperative or association to be spent of social and business investment.
Benefits of the premium
In Choche, between 2004 and 2015 the total amount of premium was in the order of several tens of thousands of pounds, a large sum for a poor community. And with that they protected two springs (see picture), constructed a new road to a distant settlement, built a clinic, a computer lab at the high school, a new bridge on a back road, and a new kindergarten with three classrooms plus toilet block with washbasins.
But to us what became so noticeable over time, though it couldn’t be caught on camera, was the growth in confidence of the farmers of Choche and of their community. By giving them hope that a better future is possible, one in which their fate was not dependent on the wild swings of the global coffee market, they had the wherewithal to improve their lives and so to look forward to better years ahead for themselves and their children.
Fairtrade really is transformational, not just materially but in terms of well-being too.