Fairtrade and Climate Change

Fairtrade and Climate Change

Jul 18, 2019

In his previous articles this year, Joe Human has looked at two subjects, Fairtrade and climate change. In this article he considers the two together, by looking at the way farmers – both those benefiting from being part of the Fairtrade system and those not – are affected by climate change, and how Fairtrade can and does help farmers to cope with it.

While contributing the least to climate change, developing countries are currently the most affected, with seriously altered weather patterns, erratic rains, rising temperatures, plus more frequent extreme weather events, such as cyclones and droughts.  Climate change affects everyone, but the people who feel its impact the most are farmers, whose very lives and livelihoods depend directly on their harvests of food for their families and money from their cash crops.  Crop failures have become far more normal, as have infestations of pests and diseases caused by higher temperatures, and sometimes by heavy excesses of rainfall.

Hot topic of discussion – coffee prices and  the effects of climate change on crops

On my frequent visits to Ethiopia from 2006 on-wards, I heard coffee farmers talking about this almost as much as they talked about coffee prices.  Ironically in bad years – when production was low and coffee in short supply – prices might be higher, though never high enough to compensate for poor harvests.

Mitigating the effects of climate change

The good news is that Fairtrade can help farmers to mitigate some of the worst effects of climate change by helping them adapt to the new weather realities.  This is being done through the introduction of varieties of crops which are drought and heat tolerant; training in better farm management techniques to lessen the impacts of pathogens and enhance productivity; improving water efficiency; and diversification so that farmers are not completely dependent on one cash crop.  This is interesting, because critics of Fairtrade often incorrectly assert that Fairtrade discourages diversification because it featherbeds farmers through overly protecting them the forces of the ‘real’ – the free – market.

The Fairtrade Carbon Credit system has also been introduced by Fairtrade International and the Fairtrade Foundation is part of the Climate Coalition, a group of over 130 organisations across the UK, working towards a world powered by clean and secure energy. 

Words of the farmers

But, back to farmers, those at the sharp end of climate change: let us hear from one, Ebrottié Tanoh Florentin, a cocoa farmer in Côte d'Ivoire, who is also the General Secretary of a local Fairtrade certified cooperative CEEA, speaking about the effects of the climate crisis on cocoa farming families. 

This is what he has to say:

'Climate change is a global issue. We, the farmers, have to live with it every day. Last year, because of the heat, we didn’t have food.  This year, thank God, it rained a lot, so there will be enough food.  However, cocoa production has gone down, partly caused by diseases caused by the rain.  The economy has taken a hit because people have not harvested enough and so got less money.

‘We are now farming with Fairtrade and this does lots of things for us through training, because someone who is trained is someone who can decide.  Someone who doesn’t receive training won’t be able to succeed. So today, through the training run by Fairtrade Africa, we learn about plant diseases and how to improve productivity. 

‘I’m not trying to be alarmist or negative, but we have to acknowledge that young people are increasingly turning away from cocoa production because it’s not profitable.  Over the past few years, the price of cocoa has fallen drastically.  When a farmer gets up in the morning he is always worried.  How will he be able to provide food, care and school fees for his family?’

Fairtrade and Climate Change