Climate change has taken centre stage in the news recently. You probably already know that Fairtrade helps farmers achieve decent incomes. But, you may not know it’s also an advocate for the environment. We explain how.
A state of emergency
According to the UN, we may have just 11 years to ‘prevent irreversible damage’ from climate change. Last week, the UK declared the climate as a state of emergency. There are two objectives: reduce carbon emissions and raise awareness. This isn’t a rehearsal – people are starting to see the risk and treat the problem with the severity it deserves.
But many farmers have been in a state of emergency for a while. They are living with the consequences of a warming world. Last year Kerala saw the worst floods in a century wiping out many cashew nut farms. In 2017 El Niño weather patterns caused a drought in the Amazon which resulted in a diminished supply of Brazil nuts. And in April, Cyclone Idai hit Malawi – it bypassed the peanut farms we work with, but hit Fairtrade sugar farms.
Small-scale farmers produce around 70% of the food we eat, so we must we put them first. And putting farmers first is at the heart of the Fairtrade movement. Producers must comply with strict rules (and go through a regular audit process) in order to achieve the Fairtrade status. Environmental standards are included on the checklist – the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO) and harmful agrichemicals are both banned. Farmers are also encouraged to enrich the soil by using sustainable irrigation systems and reduce water use.
Fairtrade doesn’t require crops to be Organic. But it does promote Organic farming, in fact, 50% of all Fairtrade producers are also certified as Organic. Within the first five years of achieving certification, producers are required to demonstrate a reduction in the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers.
Fair Trade Alliance Kerala (FTAK) is a farming cooperative in Kerala where we source cashews. FTAK runs trainings on organic farming. It’s a perfect example of how producer groups can use the Fairtrade certificate to help endorse environmentally friendly activities.
Benefits of biodiversity
Most Fairtrade farmers work on a very small scale. They grow a variety of produce, unlike large plantations that grow vast quantities of one product. One member of FTAK grows 210 different plants on just a hectare of land. The variety means there’s always something to harvest. Crops feed the family and the surplus is sold at the local market. Any rotten food is composted and used as a natural fertiliser.
Many farms that are certified Fairtrade are naturally biodiverse, but it’s also incorporated into Fairtrade’s standards. In many cooperatives the Fairtrade Premium is spent on training programmes on biodiversity for farmers.
Single-crop farms, known as monoculture, is a quick and easy way to produce food. However, it can damage the environment: soil quality decreases, there’s a greater chance of erosion, fewer pollinating insects are attracted and yields can reduce. Fairtrade exists as an alternative to industrial farming and monocultures. It works to provide farmers a different way to produce and sell their products.
Growing certain crops together helps increase yields and protect the soil. Trees provide vital, cool shade for crops like coffee and cocoa. If leaves are left to decompose when they fall to the ground, they help to enrich the soil. Fairtrade promotes farming like this which helps both the farmers and their land. In Del Campo in Nicaragua, peanut fields are moved every year so soil can recover nutrients taken by the peanut plants. Simply swapping the crop each year helps to protect the land and complies with Fairtrade’s standards.
The Fairtrade Premium is additional income used for community development projects. Premiums can be used to build vital facilities like schools, hospitals or invest in farming tools. However, it is also often used on projects designed to help conservation. For example, in Kerala, FTAK ran a water clean-up project and training on how to keep bees.
Farmers suffer first when the weather is unpredictable. But the whole planet will suffer later when there’s less food and prices increase due to low yields. Working with producers through Fairtrade is a step to prevent that. Liberation is committed to being climate conscious. We don’t use planes to transport our nuts, we use recyclable packaging where possible and we’re investigating packaging innovations. And we’re just one organisation in global network of Fairtrade brands that want to put people and planet first.
It’s fantastic if you already carry a reusable coffee cup/water bottle/tote bag to cut down on waste. But let’s take our new emergency status as a cue to think about our food: where it came from and its environmental impact. Why not swap a few items in your shopping basket to Fairtrade… and spread the word? After all, if we act together we have more power to ensure that this crisis doesn’t end in a tragedy.