When it comes to the fight against climate change, “the stakes have never been higher”. That was the verdict of the chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Hoesung Lee, speaking last week when scientists met to discuss the IPCC’s forthcoming report on the impacts of climate change.
The stakes are high for all of us, but no more so than for the tens of millions of smallholder farmers in low-income countries who bear the brunt of intensifying climate impacts.
Recent research highlights the immediate threats climate change poses to the viability of crops like coffee, cocoa and bananas. One Fairtrade cocoa farmer, Bismark Kpabitey from Ghana’s Ahafo region, reflects: “It is very difficult to go into agriculture [now] because the rainfall pattern has changed. There is drought: it is so severe that we are losing almost every crop… It’s very worrying.”
Just last month, southern African communities were hit by devastating floods caused by Storm Ana. Fairtrade sugar producers from Kasinthula in Malawi were among those affected – their offices, homes and fields flooded, and their lives and livelihoods dealt a crushing blow.
“This Fairtrade Fortnight, we’re shining a spotlight on the critical role that Fairtrade plays in climate justice”
Fortunately, Fairtrade farmers have in-built resilience: the Minimum Price and additional financial premium that groups receive means they have more working capital, and more control over how these funds are invested. So in Storm Ana’s immediate aftermath, co-operatives could distribute cash and food aid to help farming communities cope.
Fairtrade farmers have long invested in disaster recovery funds, to aid with replanting and help those most affected get back on their feet. This is a vital lifeline to farmers, of course, but it’s also an increasingly important means through which buyers can ensure security of supply.
Unfortunately, we know the vast majority of smallholder farmers lack the finance needed to build climate resilience, despite often having the vital expertise in adaptation and mitigation. This is not only profoundly unfair, but also makes no commercial sense. That’s why this Fairtrade Fortnight – our annual national awareness campaign – we’re shining a spotlight on the critical role that Fairtrade plays in climate justice.
New consumer research conducted by Opinium for Fairtrade Foundation shows that British people want to see action to address this urgent problem. Eighty-four per cent say more should be done to prevent harmful trade practices like low pay, while 78% believe it’s important that people overseas who produce tea, coffee, food, cotton and other staples are able to adapt to climate change.
These issues are at the of fore this year’s Fairtrade Fortnight campaign, which sees the return of our Choose The World You Want virtual festival, featuring events to engage consumers, government and businesses on the simple steps they can take to support climate justice for farmers. We want companies and consumers to understand that a commitment to source or buy Fairtrade means more money in farmers’ pockets, helping them to address the climate reality.
Fairtrade’s work on farmer incomes continues to lead the way. For instance, in 2021 we introduced new living income benchmarks for Colombian coffee farmers and a base wage for banana workers. Our long-standing requirements on price continue to help build farming resilience, increasingly directed at the climate crisis. Over the past six years of records, for example, producers invested more than £43m of Fairtrade Premium on projects with direct or indirect environmental impacts, including afforestation.
As proud as we are of our impact, we cannot do this alone. So during Fairtrade Fortnight we’re inviting supporters to write to their MPs asking them to urge the government to deliver on its commitments to climate-vulnerable countries. These include funding promises made at COP26, such as £500m in extra funding to tackle deforestation.
It’s vital that businesses should also play their part. Last year, 27 companies signed the Fairtrade Business Pledge, committing to pay fair prices, partner long-term with farmers, and know and show their climate impact. This Fairtrade Fortnight we’re re-opening the pledge for signatures and inviting businesses who sign it to join our new Fairtrade Climate Network: a forum to help our commercial partners build sustainable supply chains in which farmers can adapt to and mitigate climate change. Through this network, we will facilitate learning between farmers, sustainability experts and industry peers, and enable collaboration between businesses facing similar challenges to increase our collective impact.
My hope is that this Fairtrade Fortnight and beyond, all of us – businesses, individuals and politicians alike – will seize the opportunity to choose to tackle both trade and climate injustice. The stakes have, indeed, never been higher.