At the end of February, Fairtrade UK hosted the annual Fairtrade Fortnight festival. For the first time the festival was virtual and its focus was on the climate crisis, the impact it is having on crops and the smallholder farmers that are on the frontline, battling the changing environment. Over the two weeks there were inspiring workshops, memorable panel discussions, emotive case studies and stark calls to action. Participants learned how the crisis is impacting global food supplies, listened to first hand experiences from farmers in Kenya on adapting to the changing climate and heard from members of the Nicaraguan farming Co-operative Union SOPPEXCCA about the hurricanes that hit Nicaragua in November 2020, destroying crops and causing dangerous landslides. Liberation works closely with another Nicaraguan cooperative, Del Campo, that is situated just south of the department of Jinotega, where SOPPEXCCA is based, so these final accounts were not surprising to us, but nevertheless, shocking.
It was a challenging but also inspiring two week festival that was arguably made more accessible by being taken online. And just as the festival was all tied up, we at Liberation received a series of videos from one of the cooperative members in Bolivia with whom Liberation buys Brazil Nuts. Three short, shaky clips filmed on somebody’s mobile phone from the edges of the Amazon rainforest showed floods, wrecking the infrastructure as people just stood by watching helplessly, and most shockingly a woman speaking directly to the camera, begging for help
“Look!… this time it’s the worst. Look how it (the river) has grown…we have been like this since 5 o’clock in the morning. Please, I ask for your help…we can’t stand it, look how the water has filled up…I have my children, don’t forget about me! You have a big heart, look at the house, look how it has been left, please help me, I am a single mother, we are 4 families who have no resources, we have nothing.”
Whilst this was not new to us, nor others after after the Choose the World You Want festival, the fact that we were receiving these videos almost in real time, as the floods were taking place and people were losing their houses and their livelihoods, the shocking realities were made more tangible. And it reinstated, in the plain and simple words of this woman, the undeniable fact that these unprecedented changes in weather conditions are most deeply affecting the most vulnerable, and those least responsible for contributing to it. These are communities that live on the outskirts of the Amazon, working in harmony with the rainforest, conserving large areas of jungle and gathering commodities for buyers overseas by walking miles and miles to collect fallen Brazil nut pods.
Just a couple of days before receiving these videos, we had spoken to Azgar Correa-Pereira, President of AIR Muije, a cooperative of 58 members and their families in Bolivia, with whom we work closely, and he had touched upon the growing issues facing the community in relation to climate change:
“The phenomena resulting from climate change are becoming more and more frequent in the Amazon. The communities are affected by the attack on the environment, for example there are some years with rain shortages and others with too much rain and floods, these changes are affecting the agro-forestry systems and the production of Brazil nuts, the main source of income for the families. It´s a very difficult situation for the subsistence of the communities and the ecosystem in general.”
Perhaps it feels like hearing the news of how people are already suffering the effects of the climate crisis and watching videos of people in desperate situations isn´t going to help anybody. This is such a big issue, so enormous and impactful and scary and strange that it causes many of us to feel small and helpless as individuals. The term eco-anxiety has been coined as a result: the feeling of inadequacy and doom that comes with looking at a bleak future.
But now is not the time to admit defeat! There are things we can do as individuals and as a collective that can make a difference- a difference to ourselves, a difference to those already struggling, a difference for future generations.
On an individual level, you can make choices to make positive contributions. You may have seen this coming but…choosing Fairtrade products is a start. The majority of these smallholder farmers use companion planting, traditional, organic farming methods, they support biodiversity and environmental conservation projects. And during the pandemic, smallholder farms were proven to be more resilient and reliable than many of their giant competitors. Our blog post ´Fair on People, Fair on Planet´ explains a little bit more about the link between fairtrade and protecting the planet.
Aside from making ethical shopping decisions, you can choose a more sustainable diet, you can move to green and solar energy in your home, you can take a bike over a taxi…in fact there are loads of small changes you can make. Here´s a list of 101 to get you started.
But really, as individuals the best thing we can do is come together to make those in power hear our demands and make changes at the top: lobbying governments , signing petitions , sharing information, protesting, and making noise. COP26 is just around the corner and is happening (almost) on our doorstep and you can be involved. By taking a stand, working together and not feeling defeated, by the time it takes place in Glasgow at the end of the year, you will know you are speaking up to help people like the woman in the video be seen and heard, rather than turning away, filled with a feeling of helplessness.
We still have the power to make change!