Paradoxically, of the one billion people classified as food insecure by the United Nations, about 500 million are smallholder farmers in developing economies. Some of these producers are exporting luxuries such as coffee, cocoa, exotic fruits and sugar for consumers in developed economies. Due to poor and volatile prices coupled with unfair trade rules, they simply don’t earn enough to feed their families all year round and often experience the problem of seasonal hunger between harvests.
This lack of nourishment can lead to stunting, weakened immune systems and more vulnerability to disease and infection. Children are particularly vulnerable, as periods of under-nutrition can hinder both their physical and mental development. Seasonal hunger is a serious problem for many coffee and cocoa farmers. Smallholder coffee farmers in three Central American countries were found to have no guarantee of food security for three to four months every year.
Fairtrade was set up initially to work with marginalised smallholder farmers as a “a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect that seeks greater equity in international trade”.
Sales of Fairtrade products have grown to €7.3 billion (£6.3 billion) working with 1,230 producer organisations consisting of 1.6m farmers. Fairtrade certification actively supports producers in developing countries through importing and retailing their products. Moreover, acting as a social movement, fair trade campaigns for changes in the conventional terms and conditions of international trade which disadvantage producers in developing economies.
The movement prioritises socioeconomic factors by working to facilitate market access for producers, paying producers a fair minimum price which provides producers a guaranteed price when the world market price falls below this level. The stability of the Fairtrade minimum price means that producer cooperatives may be able to obtain finances and credit services. Cooperatives also gain security from longer-term contracts with exporters through the Fairtrade market.